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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Rights and Permissions

All content on this site is copyright © by Solitary Watch and/or its authors. Click here for more information on rights and permissions.

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Staff

Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, Co-Directors and Editors-in-Chief

Katie Rose Quandt, Staff Writer and Editor

Valerie Kiebala, Editorial and Project Associate

Marlies Talay, Kate Snider Project Coordinators, Lifelines to Solitary

Victoria Law, Joshua Manson, Contributing Writers

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

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

Wilbert Rideau, journalist and author; formerly incarcerated editor of the Angolite 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
Campaign to Reform State Juvenile Justice Systems
Center for Study of Responsive Law
Jozelyn and Peter Davis
Peter Flom
Deutsch Foundation
Neil Getnick
Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting
Hanley Foundation
HBO
Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute
Langeloth Foundation
Ralph Nader
Open Society Foundations
Overbrook Foundation
Puffin Foundation
Ramsay Merriam Fund
Roddick Foundation
Jon Utley
Vital Projects Fund
William Zabel

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
Charles and Natalie Fenimore
Pam Gilbert
Leah Gitter
Patricia Grossman and Helene Kendler
Sandra Haber and Steven Flanders
Eleanor Janeway
Terry Kupers
The Lovenheim Family Fund
Zoe Mackey
Rema Hort Mann Foundation
Caroline R. Merriam
Claire Nader
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Martha Rayner and Danny Haselkorn
RESIST
David Ridgeway
Laura L. Rovner
Meryl Schwartz and David Weinraub
Andy Shallal
Thomas Shanks

Supporters

Susan Abramson • Lois Ahrens • Kristina Aikens • AJFB • John Alcock • Giorgia Alexander • Julie Alley • Kristine Andarmani • Erik Antokal • Sofia Aranda • Eseohe Arhebamen-Yamasaki • Amanda Aronczyk • Allen Arthur • 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 • Wendy Belcher • Dale Bell • Jim Bergin and Judith Garvey • Mr. J. Bernert • Beth and Julie • Pippa Bianco • Sarah Blatt-Herold • Rachel Bloch • Kerrie Blum • Eve Bower • Kristen Boysen • Dawn Bringelson • Margot Brinn • Richard Broderick • Yitzhak Bronstein • Rebecca Brown • Tina Brown • Maria A. Browning • Linda Bucklin • Jocelyn A. Burrell • Mary E. Buser • Timothy Butler • Ray W. Cage • Ismail Cagee • Catherine F. Campbell • Dolores Canales • Nicole R. Capozziello • Fr. Russ Carmichael • Patti Cassidy • Alvaro Castro • Jared Chausow • Simon Christie • Matthew Chuckran • Laura A. Clark • Therese Class • Alison Clemens • Alison M. Cohen • Bobby Cohen • Rebecca Richman Cohen • Suzanne M. Cook • Robert Cooper • Timothy W. Coursen • Sue Cross • Megan Crowe-Rothstein • Alice J. Dan • Adam Davis • Lisa Dawson • Laura Markle Downton • Judith G. Dederick • Michele Deitch • Cari Delong • Andrew G. Deman • Ann F. DeMarrais • Jerry Depew • Claire Deroche • Rebecca DeSmidt • Rachel Deutsch • Joshua D. Diamond • Philip F. Diamond • Raeann Dienstag • Jennifer Dodge • Katherine Dodson • William Dooley • Andrea C. Doughtie • James M. Doyle • John Drake • Joan L. Duggan • Sally Eberhardt • Elizabeth M. Ecks and Richard Estes • Jenny R. Edwards • Kate Edwards • Susan Efird • Ruth A. Elkin • Linda K. Engelberg • Richard Estes • Bernadette Evangelist • Sheila Evans • Pamela J. Fanning • Elspeth Farmer • Patrick Farrelly • Damien Faure • Tamara Feingold-Link • Matthew Feldman • Renée Feltz • Michael Fennell • Edward Ferguson • Amy Fettig • Andrew Fitzcharles • Yael Flam • Carole Flot • Sara Marco Forrest • F. Frederic Fouad • Nancy Friedman • AJFB • Joshua Fuson • Julie Gandy • Sherry L. Geno • Linda Gerhardt • Emily J. Gertz • Frances Geteles-Shapiro • Pamela Gilbert • D.J. Gill • Amber Ginsburg • Daniel Goldman • Aviva Goldstein • Bruce J. Goldstone • Dianna Goodwin • Suzanne Gordon • Stuart E. Grassian • Alex Greenburg • Susan Greene • Sharron Grodzinsky • Kristina Gronquist • Lisa Gschwandtner • Lisa Guenther • John Guerin • Ben Hamburg • Heather Hanko • Edward Hara • Stephen Hart • Marilyn Hartman • Heidi Haverkamp • Umesh Heendeniya • Mary Jo Hetue • Caitlin Hewitt-White • Maeve Hightower • Harriet Holtzman • Alicia Howard • Tiffany W. Huang • James E. Huitema • Tracy Huling • Thomas J. Hussey • David M. Introcaso • Harry Kent Ippolito • Portia Iversen • Rob Jackson • Stanley R. James • Linda K. Jansen • Derek S. Jeffreys and Celestine M. Jeffreys • Amanda Johnson • Jonathan • Celia Jones • Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster • Kurt Kaiser • Sandeep Kandhari • Harris Kauffman • Kristin Kaul • Janice M. Keller • Rebecca S. Kelly • Helene Kendler • Bonnie Kerness • Julia Kernitz • Robert Kevess • George Kiebala • Kathy T. Kiebala • Karen L. King • Takeo Kishi • Brent A. Kite • Jeffrey Kittay • Kelly Klocker • L.C. Knape • Nikki Knisley • Matthew Krumm • Frances Lang Labaree • Elena Landriscina • The Landriscina family, in memory of Father Walter A. Mitchell • Tommy Lanoie • Cynthia Larkin • Wayde Lawler • Thomas Lawrence • Teresa LeClercq • Terri LeClercq • Laura Legge • David Leven • Marc H. Levin • Deb Levine and Richard Foxall • Rachel Levine • Deborah Levine • Karen A. Lewis • John Liebau • Eunice Lipton • Phillip Locke • Ashutosh Lohe • Gabriel London • John Loranger • Sarah Luttrell • Minh Luu • Marie Maciak • Chase Madar • Robin Maher and David Fathi • Dorene Mahoney •Lisbeth Margolies • Louis Maripolsky • Laura Markle Downton • Susan Marsh • Karen C. Martinez • Michael Matheron • Donald McCallum • Francisco McGann • John P. McKay • Carla B. McLean • Hazel L. McLeod • Andrew J. McKenna • Nancy McMahon • Sarah McMilian • David R. Meacham • Eugene Mele • Rebecca A. Melton • Clair E. Mesick • Alison Meyer • Judy Miekle • Arthur Milholland • Katie Mitchell • Michael Molitch-Hou • Edward G. Moloney • Valeria Monfrini • Tanvi Mongia • Diana Jo Montes-Walker• Amanda Moore • Teresa Morden • Susan Mortimer • William J. Moser • Fowad Muneer • Yasmin Narayan • Rachel Nardin • Dion Nania • Sarah Occident • Susan Ohanian • Pat O’Hara • Cynthia J. Otiso • Kevin Ott • Anne Otto • Lisa E. Overton • Ariel Page • Jennifer J. Parish • Melina Parish-Miller • Stephanie Parish • Dean Pasvankias • Patrick Paxton • Cheryl Pearlman • Mark Peterson • Robin Pettersen • Michael W. Pettit • Robert Pfister • Barry Phillips • Christie Pierce • Eric Pilch • Karlee E. Pittman • Jacob Plitman • Tammie M. Pope • Tina Powers • Anne C. Pratt • Vanessa Pronovost • Laura J. Pumillo • Alma Ramirez-Rodgers • Rachel • Jacqueline Ramos • Sarah Randolph • Selma A. Rayfiel • Helen Redmond • Roger H. Rindge • Ute Ritz-Deutch • Rachel M. Roberts • Thomas Robbins • Nihaal Robert • Rachel M. Roberts • Roena • 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 • Steven Schilling • Margo Schlanger • James Schmidtberger • Cathy Schneider • Anne Schreiber • John T. Schwartz • Meryl Schwartz • Catherine Sevcenko • Marsha Shandur • Bipasha Shom • Sarah Shourd • Sara Shute • Geri Silva • Jennifer • Michael A. Slaughter • Patrick Sloyan • Jeffrey Smith • Sam Smith • Jenny E. Sommer • Rachel H. Sommer • Suzanne J. Spears • Cordelia Springstubb • K.L. Stachenfield • Evelyn Staus • Eric Sternbach • Mitchell Stone • Jackie Sumell • Scott Susin • Charles Sutphin • Therese Sweeney • Veronika Syrop • Saskia Talay • Colleen Talay • Eve Taggart • Janet Tanke • Stephen Tappis • Connie Taylor • Jefferson Taylor • Kathleen Taylor • Yuval Taylor • Jeanie W. Teare • Fiona Teng • Jeanne Theoharis • Andrew Thompson • Joseph Thuemler • Stacy Tomlinson • Jean Trounstine • Deanna Troy • Royce Truex • Paul Typaldos • Kathleen Utgoff • Katie Uva • Holland Vaughn • Borsos Veronika • Jeffrey Vogel • Martha Vicinus • Jeffrey B. Vogel • Peter Wagner • Alex Genty-Waksberg • Jessica Walbridge • Sadhbh Walsh • Paul G. Warrick • Larry Wartels • Kiayanna Washington • Gabrielle Watson • Leonora Wiener • David Weinraub • Sue Weishar • Ryan Weismann-Yee • Rachel Weiss • Joel Weissburg • Lisa V. West • Emily Weserholm • Leonora Wiener • David Wilhelm • Mariah Z. Williams • Amy R. Willis • Meghan E. Willis • John Winston • Janet Wittes • Janet L. Wolfe • D. Ira Wood • Marilyn E. Wood • Fronza Woods • Lisa Wright • Jeffrey Vogel • Annajane Yolken • Angelique Yoseloff • Bonnie S. Young • Loretta Rush Young • Rebecca Young • Jasmine Zahid • Michael Zagone • Tom Zerucha • Michael Zigmond • Martha R. Zimiles • 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.

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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.