Solitary Watch is a nonprofit national watchdog group that investigates, documents, and disseminates information on the widespread use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails. Our mission is to provide the public—as well as practicing attorneys, legal scholars, law enforcement and corrections officers, policymakers, educators, advocates, people in prison and their families—with the first centralized source of unfolding news, original reporting, firsthand accounts, and background research on solitary confinement in the United States. Our hope is that such information will catalyze discussion, debate, and change on a vital domestic human rights issue. (Scroll down for a detailed description.)

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Contact

For more information, or to suggest stories or resources for the site, email info@solitarywatch.com, or write to Solitary Watch, 123 7th Avenue, #166, Brooklyn, NY 11215.

If you are an incarcerated person reaching out to Solitary Watch and/or would like to be placed on our mailing list to receive print newsletters, please write to Solitary Watch, PO Box 11374, Washington, D.C. 20008.

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Staff

Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, Co-Directors and Editors

Katie Rose Quandt, Aviva Stahl, Victoria Law, Contributing Writers

Marlies Talay, Project Coordinator, Lifelines to Solitary

Julia Steele Allen, Project Coordinator, Photo Requests from Solitary

Camila Arevalo, Aleks Gilbert, Valerie Kiebala, Joshua Manson, Reporters/Researchers

To apply for an internship as a Reporter/Researcher, click here.

Eighty 20 Group, Development Consultants

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Advisors

Lois Ahrens, Director, The Real Cost of Prisons Project

Stephen B. Bright, President and Senior Counsel, Southern Center for Human Rights

David Bruck, Professor and Director, Virginia Captial Case Clearinghouse, Washington and Lee University School of Law

David C. Fathi, Director, ACLU National Prison Project

Susan Greene, Editor in Chief, The Colorado Independent

Bonnie Kerness, Coordinator, Prison Watch Project and STOPMAX Campaign, American Friends Service Committee

Robert King, activist and author; survivor of 29 years in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Pententiary, Angola

Terry Kupers, MD, MSP, Institute Professor, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology; clinical psychiatrist and expert in forensic mental health

Rev. Stan Moody, Pastor, Meeting House Church, Manchester, ME; former chaplain, Maine State Prison

Michael B. Mushlin, Professor, Pace University School of Law

Wilbert Rideau, journalist and author; former prisoner and Angolite editor at the Louisiana State Pententiary, Angola

Laura Rovner, Associate Professor and Director, Civil Rights Clinic, University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Meryl Schwartz, Deputy Director, The Innocence Project

Jeffrey St. Clair, Editor, Counterpunch

Liliana Segura, Senior Editor, The Intercept

Charles Sullivan, Executive Director, CURE

Peter Wagner, Executive Director, Prison Policy Initiative

Affiliations are for identification purposes only.

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Support

We depend upon the community of readers to support this effort to bring the issue of solitary confinement in the United States out of the shadows and into the public square. Solitary Watch’s investigative reporting, research, outreach, and special projects such as Lifelines to Solitary all rely on your generous support through donations at any level.

Solitary Watch is a project of Investigative News Network, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, which serves as its fiscal sponsor for all grants and donations. Donations to Solitary Watch through INN are 100% tax-deductible.

To donate:

Make a secure, tax-deductible donation online by clicking here. Until December 31, 2017, every donation will be matched in full up to $1,000!

Or send a check made out to Institute for Nonprofit News/Solitary Watch
to: Institute for Nonprofit News, c/o Souza & Associates, PO Box 8606, Calabasas, CA 91372-8606

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Acknowledgements

We extend sincere thanks to our past and present donors, whose generosity and belief in our work have made Solitary Watch possible.

Benefactors

Achilles Foundation
Alicia Patterson Foundation
Ben and Jerry’s Foundation
Center for Study of Responsive Law
Deutsch Foundation
Neil Getnick
Flom Family Foundation
HBO
Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute
Langeloth Foundation
The Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting
Ralph Nader
Open Society Foundations
Overbrook Foundation
Puffin Foundation
Ramsay Merriam Fund
Roddick Foundation
Jon Utley
Vital Projects Fund
William Zabel
Windsor Associates

Patrons

The Adonai Foundation
A.J. Muste Memorial Institute
Craig S. Armstrong
Carol and Frank Biondi
Michael Casella
Charissa Chu and Steven K. Weissman
Fritzi Cohen
Kenyon Cooke
Richard Estes
Pam Gilbert
Leah Gitter
Hanley Foundation
The Lovenheim Family Fund
RESIST
Laura L. Rovner
Andy Shallal
Tom Shanks

Supporters

Lois Ahrens • Kristina Aikens • John Alcock • Georgia Alexander • Julie Alley • Erik Antokal • Sofia Aranda • Criag S. Armstrong • Amanda Aronczyk • Jane Asch • Moya Atkinson • Jeanie Attie • Brandon B. Avery • Gayle Ayala • Ramin Bahrani • James Barraclough • Jonathan M. Barrett • Joan Barry • Quintin L. Bart • Christopher Beall • Jack Beck • Dale Bell • James Bergin • Mr. J. Bernert • Pippa Bianco • Eve Bower • Kristin Boysen • Andrew Brennan • Margot Brinn • Richard Broderick • Rebecca Brown • Tina Brown • Maria Browning • Linda Bucklin • Jocelyn A. Burrell • Mary E. Buser • Ray W. Cage • Ismail Cagee • Catherine F. Campbell • Dolores Canales • Nicole R. Capozziello • Fr. Russ Carmichael • Jared Chausow • Simon Christie • Laura A. Clark • Therese Class • Alison M. Cohen • Bobby Cohen • Rebecca R. Cohen • Suzanne M. Cook • Robert Cooper • Timothy W. Coursen • Megan Crowe-Rothstein • Alice J. Dan • Adam Davis • Jozelyn Davis • Cari Delong • Andrew G. Deman • Ann F. DeMarrais • Jerry Depew • Rachel Deutsch • Joshua D. Diamond • Philip F. Diamond • Raeann Dienstag • Jennifer Dodge • Katherine Dodson • William Dooley • Andrea C. Doughtie • Joan L. Duggan • Sally Eberhardt • Elizabeth M. Ecks and Richard Estes • Kate Edwards • Ruth A. Elkin • Linda K. Engelberg • Bernadette Evangelist • Sheila Evans • Elspeth Farmer • David C. Fathi • Tamara Feingold-Link • Michael Fennell • Amy Fettig • Andrew Fitzcharles • Carole Flot • Sara Marco Forrest • F. Frederic Fouad • Nancy Friedman • Adriane Fugh-Berman • Joshua Fuson • Jonathan Galli • Julie Gandy • Judy Garvey • Sherry L. Geno • Frances Geteles-Shapiro • D.J. Gill • Amber Ginsburg • Daniel Goldman • Aviva Goldstein • Bruce J Goldstone • Dianna Goodwin • Suzanne Gordon • Stuart E. Grassian • Susan Greene • Sharron Grodzinsky • Kristina Gronquist • Patricia Grossman • Lisa Guenther • John Guerin • Ben Hamburg • Heather Hanko • Edward Hara • Stephen Hart • Marilyn Hartman • Heidi Haverkamp • Umesh Heendeniya • Caitlin Hewitt-White • Harriet Holtzman • Tiffany W. Huang • James Huitema • Thomas J. Hussey • Portia Iversen • Stanley R. James • Linda K. Jansen • Amanda Johnson • Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster • Kurt Kaiser • Harris Kauffman • Kristin Kaul • Janice M. Keller • Rebecca Kelly • Helene Kendler • Bonnie Kerness • Julia Kernitz • Kathy T Kiebala • Karen L King • Brent A. Kite • Jeffrey Kittay • Kelly Klocker • L.C. Knape • Matthew Krumm • Terry Kupers • Frances Lang Labaree •  Elena Landriscina • The Landriscina family, in memory of Father Walter A. Mitchell • Tommy Lanoie • Wayde Lawler • Thomas Lawrence • Teresa LeClercq • Laura Legge • Marc H. Levin • Deb Levine and Richard Foxall • Karen A. Lewis • John Liebau • Eunice Lipton • Phillip Locke • Gabriel London • Sarah Luttrell • Marie Maciak • Chase Madar • Robin Maher • Lisbeth Margolies • Louis Maripolsky • Karen C Martinez • Michael Matheron • John P. McKay • Carla B. McLean • Andrew J. McKenna • Nancy McMahon • David R. Meacham • Jose Medina • Eugene Mele • Rebecca A. Melton • Caroline Ramsay Merriam and John E. Merriam • Clair E Mesick • Alison Meyer • Judy Miekle • Arthur Milholland • Katie Mitchell • Michael Molitch-Hou • Edmund Moloney • Valeria Monfrini • Tanvi Mongia • Diana Jo Montes-Walker• Amanda Moore • Teresa Morden • William Moser • Yasmin Narayan • Rachel Nardin • Dion Nania • Susan Ohanian • Cynthia J. Otiso • Kevin Ott • Anne Otto • Lisa E. Overton • Ariel Page • Jennifer J. Parish • Dean Pasvankias • Patrick Paxton •  Mark Peterson • Robin Pettersen • Michael W. Pettit • Robert Pfister • Barry Phillips • Christie Pierce • Eric Pilch • Karlee E Pittman • Jerome M. Plotkin • Tina Powers • Anne C. Pratt • Vanessa Pronovost • Laura J. Pumillo • Alma Ramirez-Rodgers • Sarah Randolph • Selma A. Rayfiel • Martha Rayner • Helen Redmond • Ute Ritz-Deutch • Rachel M. Roberts • Tom Robbins • Steven Roesch • Sharon L. Rolenc • Alena Rosen • Susan Rosenberg • Peter J. Rosenwald • Linda Rousseau • Laura Rovner • Carol Rubin  • Donna M. Rueth • Sally Rumble • Loretta Rushforth Young • Patricia Russell • Maggie Russo • Richard A. Sanchez • Christine M. Sarteschi • Margo Schlanger • Cathy Schneider • Anne Schreiber • Meryl Schwartz and David Weinraub • John T. Schwartz • Marsha Shandur • Sarah Shourd • Geri Silva • Michael A. Slaughter • Jeffrey Smith • Jenny E. Sommer • Rachel H Sommer • Suzanne J. Spears • Cordelia Springstubb • K.L. Stachenfield • Evelyn Staus • Mitchell Stone • Jackie Sumell • Therese Sweeney • Saskia Talay • Eve Taggart • Stephen Tappis • Connie Taylor • Jefferson Taylor • Kathleen Taylor • Yuval Taylor • Fiona Teng • Jeanne Theoharis • Joseph Thuemler • Stacy Tomlinson • Jean R. Trounstine • Deanna Troy • Royce Truex • Paul Typaldos • Katharine E. Uva • Holland Vaughn • Jeffrey Vogel • Peter Wagner • Jessica Walbridge • Sadhbh Walsh • Paul G. Warrick • Kiayanna Washington • Jennifer A. Wedekind • David Weinraub • Ryan Weismann-Yee • Rachel Weiss •  Joel Weissburg • Lisa V. West • Emily Weserholm • Leonora Wiener • David Wilhelm • Amy R. Willis • Meghan E. Willis • Janet L. Wolfe • Marilyn E. Wood • Fronza Woods • Lisa Wright • Jeffrey Vogel • Angelique Yoseloff • Bonnie S. Young • Rebecca Young • Jasmine Zahid • Michael Zagone • Tom Zerucha • Joan Zimmerman • Ann Zimmerschied

We also wish to acknowledge the formerly incarcerated people who have shared with us their unique knowledge and experience, and the currently incarcerated people who have written to inform us about conditions in solitary, sometimes at considerable risk of retaliation.

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Description

The use and abuse of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons is one of the most pressing domestic human rights issues in America today—and also one of the most invisible. Today, at least 25,000 individuals are being held in long-term solitary in the nation’s “supermax” facilities. According to available data, the total number of men, women, and children living in solitary confinement in all state and federal prisons exceeds 80,000, with tens of thousands more in isolation in local jails, juvenile facilities, and immigration detention centers.

Far from being a last-resort measure reserved for the “worst of the worst,” solitary confinement has become a control strategy of first resort in many prisons. This despite the fact that it has never been shown to serve any legitimate penological purpose, and may actually increase both prison violence and recidivism. Individuals can be placed in complete isolation for months or years not only for violent acts but for possessing contraband, using drugs, ignoring orders, or using profanity. Thousands more are held in indefinite solitary confinement because they have been “validated” as gang members, based on highly questionable information. Others have ended up in solitary because they have untreated mental illnesses, are children in need of “protection,” are gay or transgender, are Muslim, have unsavory political beliefs, or report rape or abuse by prison officials. In Virginia, a dozen Rastafarian men spent ten years in solitary because they refused to cut their hair on religious grounds.

For the people who endure it, life in solitary confinement means spending at least 23 hours a day in a cell that measures, on average, 6 x 9 feet, within supermax prisons or prison units that have made a science out of isolation. Their meals generally come through slots in the solid steel doors of their cells, as do any communications with prison staff. Some are permitted to exercise one hour a day, alone, in a fenced or walled “dog run.” Individuals in solitary confinement may be denied visits, telephone calls, television, reading materials, and art supplies. And they can remain in isolation for months, years, or decades. In Louisiana, Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3 spent more than 43 years in solitary before his release in 2016.

Numerous studies have found evidence of the psychological damage caused by solitary confinement. One recent federal court case called solitary confinement units “virtual incubators of psychoses–seeding illness in otherwise healthy prisoners and exacerbating illness in those already suffering from mental infirmities” (Ruiz v. Johnson 2001). As little as a week in solitary has been shown to affect EEG activity, while longer stretches produce psychopathologies at an alarmingly high rate. For those already suffering from or prone to mental illness–which in some states can make up nearly half of all people held in solitary–solitary confinement can cause irreparable psychological damage, as well as extreme mental anguish. About 50 percent of all prison suicides take place among the approximately 5 percent of incarcerated individuals held in solitary confinement.

Solitary Watch produces a daily blog, as well as longer investigative articles and fact sheets on various aspects of solitary confinement, and maintains a comprehensive library of resources on solitary confinement. A quarterly print edition is sent free of charge to prisoners and advocates. Solitary Watch also publishes “Voices from Solitary”—firsthand writing and video testimonies that give a human face to the facts and figures, and to a subset of people that is even more invisible than the prison population at large.

Recent activism against solitary confinement by the American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty International, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and several state-level campaigns, as well as grassroots groups and people in prison themselves, clearly show that this is an issue whose time has come. The goal of Solitary Watch is to support and inform these efforts by providing vital information and reporting, and to help place solitary confinement on the public agenda as an undeniable issue of basic human rights.

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