Home Torture in U.S. Prisons

Ending Torture in U.S. Prisons

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NRCAT's work to end torture in U.S. prisons, jails and detention centers is focused on confronting the use of solitary confinement. Our interfaith work is rooted in a commitment to honoring human dignity and human rights.

On any given day, roughly 80,000 incarcerated adults and youth are held in conditions of solitary confinement. Isolated confinement has a variety of names: segregation (“seg”),  “the hole." Incarcerated people are confined to a cell (alone, or with another person) for 22-24 hours per day, with an hour alone in an exercise cage, for months, years, even decades. Food is pushed through a small slot in the door. Denied all meaningful contact with other people, those who have survived it describe the experience as being "buried alive."

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, stated in his 2011 report that solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should "be subject to an absolute prohibition” based on scientific evidence of its psychological damage. Half of all prison suicides occur in conditions of solitary confinement. Isolation fundamentally alters the brain, creates and exacerbates mental illness, denies opportunity for community, and violates inherent human dignity. It creates toxic environments for incarcerated people, correctional staff and administrators.

We invite you to join the nationwide interfaith effort to end long-term solitary confinement.



The U.S. accounts for 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated and holds more prisoners in solitary confinement than any other democratic nation. There are over 40 state-run super-max prisons and one federal super-max prison in the U.S.-- each of which holds inmates exclusively in solitary confinement. In the early 1980s, there was one. Some argue that the use of solitary confinement is a necessary management tool used for only the “worst of the worst.” However, the reality is most prisoners end up in solitary confinement or are unable to move out of isolation due to non-violent rule infractions and as a result of mental illness.     


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