Associated Press/Bebeto Matthews
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.”
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:
Associated Press/Bebeto Matthews
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.
Race and solitary sonfinement
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.
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.
Time spent in solitary
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.