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A solitary confinement cell at New York City's Riker's Island jail.
Analysis

Who’s in Solitary Confinement?

The data on how many prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement has long been elusive: many state corrections departments didn’t log such information, and it was hard to track given the various euphemisms for the practice. A new report from Yale Law School and the Association of State Correctional Administrators released Wednesday tries to fill the gaps in what we know about the use of solitary confinement in the United States.

The Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale first collected data from state and federal corrections officials in 2014 and again, in more detail, last year, taking what amounts to a comprehensive census on the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. Researchers found that in the fall of 2015, at least 67,442 U.S. prisoners were kept in some kind of restricted housing. (That includes prisoners held in “double-cell solitary,” where they are locked down with another inmate.)

But perhaps most striking, researchers said, was how many states have come around to the idea of reducing the use of solitary confinement. “The official position of so many jurisdictions now is that they want less solitary,” said Judith Resnik, the Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale Law School and a co-author of the report. “The people closest to running prisons are telling us this is not a wise thing to do for the safety and well-being of prisoners, or the safety of staff and the communities to which they’ll return.”

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Despite the growing consensus, some states, like Louisiana, still put a significant portion of their prisoners in isolation (though Louisiana officials claim their use of solitary confinement is closer to 8 percent when including state inmates being housed in county jails). Corrections officials in Utah, which in 2015 held 14 percent of its inmates in segregation, told researchers they’ve since overhauled their policies on solitary confinement.

Here is a look at some of the report's most interesting findings:

Percent of prison population in solitary confinement

 

Solitary was being used in every jurisdiction surveyed, but some depended on the practice more than others. These are the percentages of inmates who were kept in isolation at least 22 hours a day for 15 days or more.

15%

12%

9%

6%

3%

0%

Percent of prison population in solitary confinement

 

Solitary was being used in every jurisdiction surveyed, but some depended on the practice more than others. These are the percentages of inmates who were kept in isolation at least 22 hours a day for 15 days or more.

0%

3%

6%

9%

12%

15%

Louisiana

Utah

Nebraska

New Mexico

Delaware

Tennessee

New York

Washington, D.C.

Florida

Maryland

Alaska

Georgia

Minnesota

New Jersey

Missouri

Wyoming

Arizona

Indiana

Kansas

Vermont

Alabama

Oklahoma

South Carolina

Idaho

Illinois

Federal Bureau of Prisons

New Hampshire

Oregon

Kentucky

North Carolina

Texas

Wisconsin

Montana

Pennsylvania

Michigan

Iowa

North Dakota

South Dakota

Virginia

Ohio

Massachusetts

Washington

Colorado

Mississippi

California

Connecticut

Hawaii

0%

3%

6%

9%

12%

15%

Percent of prison population in solitary confinement

 

Solitary was being used in every jurisdiction surveyed, but some depended on the practice more than others. These are the percentages of inmates who were kept in isolation at least 22 hours a day for 15 days or more.

0%

3%

6%

9%

12%

15%

Louisiana

Utah

Nebraska

New Mexico

Delaware

Tennessee

New York

Washington, D.C.

Florida

Maryland

Alaska

Georgia

Minnesota

New Jersey

Missouri

Wyoming

Arizona

Indiana

Kansas

Vermont

Alabama

Oklahoma

South Carolina

Idaho

Illinois

Federal Bureau of Prisons

New Hampshire

Oregon

Kentucky

North Carolina

Texas

Wisconsin

Montana

Pennsylvania

Michigan

Iowa

North Dakota

South Dakota

Virginia

Ohio

Massachusetts

Washington

Colorado

Mississippi

California

Connecticut

Hawaii

0%

3%

6%

9%

12%

15%

Demographic data from the new survey shows that on average, prisoners of color were slightly overrepresented in solitary confinement when compared with the overall prison population. But in some states, this disparity is particularly stark. In California state prisons, Hispanic men make up 42 percent of male prisoners, but 86 percent of male prisoners in restricted housing.

Race and Solitary Confinement

In general, white inmates are underrepresented in solitary compared with the prison as a whole. Black inmates in many states make up a greater percentage of solitary confinement occupants. These charts plot the difference between the percentage of men of each race in the general prison population and their percentage of the inmates in solitary.

White men

Black men

Hispanic men

More in solitary

More in solitary

More in general population

More in solitary

More in general population

More in general population

25%

same

25%

California

South Dakota

Connecticut

23 points

26 points

7 points

Tennessee

North Dakota

Washington, D.C.

Texas

Minnesota

North Carolina

Colorado

Utah

Hawaii

Hawaii

Wyoming

Pennsylvania

Nebraska

Montana

Mississippi

Washington

Michigan

South Carolina

Alaska

California

Massachusetts

South Dakota

Arizona

Virginia

Bureau of Prisons

Kansas

Bureau of Prisons

Utah

Wisconsin

South Dakota

Idaho

Ohio

Minnesota

Wyoming

Washington

Montana

Kentucky

North Carolina

Michigan

Montana

Pennsylvania

Ohio

Arizona

Mississippi

Florida

Oregon

Iowa

Missouri

Virginia

Oklahoma

Alabama

Iowa

Florida

Louisiana

New Jersey

Missouri

Idaho

Louisiana

South Carolina

Oregon

Washington, D.C.

Connecticut

Kentucky

Average

Delaware

5

Alaska

Maryland

Alabama

Tennessee

New York

Colorado

Delaware

Massachusetts

New York

New York

Indiana

Texas

Average

1

Oklahoma

Average

Indiana

6

Kansas

Massachusetts

New Jersey

Delaware

Indiana

Maryland

Alabama

Louisiana

Oklahoma

Minnesota

Nebraska

Wisconsin

North Dakota

New Jersey

Wyoming

Wisconsin

Idaho

Kansas

Missouri

Oregon

Nebraska

Florida

Virginia

Iowa

South Carolina

Hawaii

Arizona

North Carolina

Kentucky

North Dakota

Ohio

Washington, D.C.

Colorado

Pennsylvania

Bureau of Prisons

Utah

Mississippi

Alaska

Texas

Connecticut

Maryland

Washington

Michigan

Tennessee

California

10

15

44

Race and Solitary Confinement

In general, white inmates are underrepresented in solitary compared with the prison as a whole. Black inmates in many states make up a greater percentage of solitary confinement occupants. These charts plot the difference between the percentage of men of each race in the general prison population and their percentage of the inmates in solitary.

White men

More in general population

More in solitary

25%

same

25%

South Dakota

23 points

North Dakota

Minnesota

Utah

Wyoming

Montana

Michigan

California

Arizona

Kansas

Wisconsin

Ohio

Washington

North Carolina

Pennsylvania

Mississippi

Iowa

Oklahoma

Florida

Missouri

South Carolina

Connecticut

Delaware

Alabama

Colorado

New York

Texas

Average

6

Massachusetts

Indiana

Louisiana

Nebraska

New Jersey

Idaho

Oregon

Virginia

Hawaii

Kentucky

Washington, D.C.

Bureau of Prisons

Alaska

Maryland

Tennessee

10

Black men

More in solitary

More in general population

California

26 points

Tennessee

Texas

Colorado

Hawaii

Nebraska

Washington

Alaska

South Dakota

Bureau of Prisons

Utah

Idaho

Wyoming

Kentucky

Montana

Arizona

Oregon

Virginia

Iowa

New Jersey

Louisiana

Washington, D.C.

Average

5

Maryland

New York

Massachusetts

Indiana

Oklahoma

Kansas

Delaware

Alabama

Minnesota

North Dakota

Wisconsin

Missouri

Florida

South Carolina

North Carolina

Ohio

Pennsylvania

Mississippi

Connecticut

Michigan

15

Hispanic men

More in solitary

More in general population

Connecticut

7 points

Washington, D.C.

North Carolina

Hawaii

Pennsylvania

Mississippi

South Carolina

Massachusetts

Virginia

Bureau of Prisons

South Dakota

Minnesota

Montana

Michigan

Ohio

Florida

Missouri

Alabama

Louisiana

Idaho

Oregon

Kentucky

Alaska

Tennessee

Delaware

New York

Average

1

Indiana

New Jersey

Maryland

Oklahoma

Wisconsin

Wyoming

Kansas

Nebraska

Iowa

Arizona

North Dakota

Colorado

Utah

Texas

Washington

California

44

Race and Solitary Confinement

In general, white inmates are underrepresented in solitary compared with the prison as a whole. Black inmates in many states make up a greater percentage of solitary confinement occupants. These charts plot the difference between the percentage of men of each race in the general prison population and their percentage of the inmates in solitary.

White men

More in general population

More in solitary

25%

same

25%

23 points

South Dakota

North Dakota

Minnesota

Utah

Wyoming

Montana

Michigan

California

Arizona

Kansas

Wisconsin

Ohio

Washington

North Carolina

Pennsylvania

Mississippi

Iowa

Oklahoma

Florida

Missouri

South Carolina

Connecticut

Delaware

Alabama

Colorado

New York

Texas

Average

6

Massachusetts

Indiana

Louisiana

Nebraska

New Jersey

Idaho

Oregon

Virginia

Hawaii

Kentucky

Washington, D.C.

Bureau of Prisons

Alaska

Maryland

10

Tennessee

Black men

More in solitary

More in general population

California

26 points

Tennessee

Texas

Colorado

Hawaii

Nebraska

Washington

Alaska

South Dakota

Bureau of Prisons

Utah

Idaho

Wyoming

Kentucky

Montana

Arizona

Oregon

Virginia

Iowa

New Jersey

Louisiana

Washington, D.C.

Average

5

Maryland

New York

Massachusetts

Indiana

Oklahoma

Kansas

Delaware

Alabama

Minnesota

North Dakota

Wisconsin

Missouri

Florida

South Carolina

North Carolina

Ohio

Pennsylvania

Mississippi

Connecticut

15

Michigan

Hispanic men

More in solitary

More in general population

Connecticut

7 points

Washington, D.C.

North Carolina

Hawaii

Pennsylvania

Mississippi

South Carolina

Massachusetts

Virginia

Bureau of Prisons

South Dakota

Minnesota

Montana

Michigan

Ohio

Florida

Missouri

Alabama

Louisiana

Idaho

Oregon

Kentucky

Alaska

Tennessee

Delaware

New York

1

Average

Indiana

New Jersey

Maryland

Oklahoma

Wisconsin

Wyoming

Kansas

Nebraska

Iowa

Arizona

North Dakota

Colorado

Utah

Texas

Washington

44

California

The length of time prisoners spend in solitary confinement also varies greatly from state to state. The largest portion of inmates — 29 percent — were there for one to three months. But nearly 3,000 prisoners across the country have been in solitary confinement for six years or longer. More than half of them are in Texas.

Time Spent in Solitary

Federal Bureau of Prisons

3,000 people

Florida

2,000

Texas

New York

1,000

Arizona

Tennessee

 

0

15 days–1 month

1–3 months

3–6 months

6 months–1 year

1–3 years

3–6 years

6+ years

Time Spent in Solitary

Federal Bureau of Prisons

3,000

people

FL

2,000

TX

NY

1,000

AZ

TN

0

15 days–

1 month

1–3

months

3–6

months

6 months–

1 year

1–3

years

3–6

years

6+

years

Time Spent in Solitary

Federal Bureau

of Prisons

3,000

people

FL

2,000

TX

NY

1,000

AZ

TN

 

0