Solitary Confinement, Public Safety, and Recdivism

As of 2005, about 80,000 prisoners were housed in solitary confinement in jails and in state and federal prisons in the United States. Prisoners in solitary confinement are generally housed in a cell for twenty-two to twenty-four hours a day with little human contact or interaction. The number of prisoners held in solitary confinement increased 40 percent between 1995 and 2000, in comparison to the growth in the total prison population of 28 percent. Concurrently, the duration of time that prisoners spend in solitary confinement also increased: nationally, most prisoners in solitary confinement spend more than five years there. The effects of solitary confinement on prisoners have been a source of growing concern, but the question of whether solitary confinement affects public safety and recidivism has received less attention. While lower courts have imposed constitutional limitations on the use of solitary confinement, in the modern era the Supreme Court has never held that the practice is unconstitutional. Therefore, this Note argues for policy reforms to counteract the harmful impact of solitary confinement on public safety and recidivism, informed by the constitutional standards for its use in prisons.