Reducing the use and impact of solitary confinement in corrections

Cyrus Ahalt (University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA)
Craig Haney (University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California, USA)
Sarah Rios (University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California, USA)
Matthew P. Fox (University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA)
David Farabee (University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA)
Brie Williams (University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Publication date: 13 March 2017



Although the reform of solitary confinement is underway in many jurisdictions around world, isolation remains in widespread use in many jails and prisons. The purpose of this paper is to discuss opportunities for reform in the USA that could also be applied globally.


A review of the evidence on solitary confinement policies and practices in the USA to develop recommendations for reform with global application.


Focusing on this evidence, the authors argue that solitary confinement is overused and recommend a multi-level approach available to correctional systems worldwide including: immediately limiting solitary confinement to only those cases in which a violent behavioral infraction has been committed for which safety cannot otherwise be achieved, ensuring the briefest terms of isolation needed to achieve legitimate and immediate correctional goals, prohibiting its use entirely for some populations, regularly reviewing all isolated prisoners for as-soon-as-possible return to general population, including the immediate return of those showing mental and physical health risk factors, assisting individuals who are transitioning out of isolation (either to the general population or to the community), and partnering with medical, public health, and criminal justice experts to develop evidence-based alternatives to solitary confinement for nearly all prisoners.


This paper provides an overview of the evidence supporting an overhaul of solitary confinement policy in the USA and globally where solitary confinement remains in wide use and offers recommendations for immediate steps that can be taken toward achieving evidence-based solitary confinement reform.



Ahalt, C., Haney, C., Rios, S., Fox, M., Farabee, D. and Williams, B. (2017), "Reducing the use and impact of solitary confinement in corrections", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 41-48.

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