Alternatives to Solitary Confinement

Learn more about how states have successfully reformed the use of solitary confinement:

On April 28, 2014, the Colorado Legislature passed SB 64 with bipartisan support, a bill that bans long-term solitary confinement of prisoners with serious mental illness and provides funding for policies, recently initiated by the Department of Corrections, providing out-of-cell treatment for prisoners with serious mental illness. Media coverage of the advance of SB 64 is available here. The bill passed the Colorado House of Representatives after receiving unanimous approval by the Senate.

"An Experiment in Atlanta May Transform Care of Mentally Ill Prisoners" by Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, February 11, 2014. Faced with allegations of systemic abuse and neglect, federal prison officials move—quietly and, so far, effectively—to improve the level of care and treatment those inmates receive.

"Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States" by Ram Subramanian and Alison Shames, VERA Institute of Justice, October 2014. The VERA Institute of Justice published a report that looks to models in Germany and the Netherlands for alternatives (see especially page 13: Disciplinary Approaches in Germany and the Netherlands).

"City Plans New Approach to Disciplining Mentally Ill Inmates" by Vivian Yee, The New York Times, May 12, 2013. In July, New York City will implement alternatives to solitary confinement for mentally ill inmates. Instead of isolation, inmates who are severely mentall ill will be transferred to an internal clinic for counseling, treatment and medicine.

"Colorado spending $208 million on empty solitary confinement prison" by David Olinger, The Denver Post, November 11, 2012. Olinger reports on the history of Colorado State Penitentiary II. This prison was built for solitary confinement, and gained support on a bipartisan legislation. Projected statistics were wrong and Colorado crime rate and prison population has declined. Colorado reported on their solitary confinement system and state legislators unanimously agreed to close the prison.

"Isolating prisoners less common in Washington than most places" by Alexis Krell, The News Tribune, July 10, 2012. Washington has been gaining recognition for its low use of segregation (about 2.7% of the total inmate population). Instead, Washington uses alternative methods, such as restricting privileges or confining inmates to their cells within the general prison population.

"Reassessing Solitary Confinement - The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences" by Commissioner Christoper Epps, Senate Testimony from Public Hearing on June 19, 2012. Epps is the Commissioner of Corrections for the State of Mississippi and President Elect of the American Correctional Association. Epps addressed the Senate subcommittee about his experience in recognizing that solitary confinement contributed to violence, disruptive incidents and suicides.  Epps worked to minimize Mississippi inmates' time in solitary confinement and saw a reduction of 75.6% from 2007-2012. 

"Less restriction equals less violence at Maine State Prison" by Alex Barber, Bangor Daily News, June 15, 2012. Barber explains the history of why Maine drastically reduced its solitary confinement use and how Maine's experience can be an example for other states.

"Colorado prisons turn away from heavy use of solitary confinement" by Kirk Mitchell, The Denver Post, June 4, 2012. Colorado has lessened its use of solitary confinement after reassessing the necessity and effectiveness of holding prisoners in segregation.

"Prisons Rethink Isolation, Saving Money, Lives and Sanity" by Erica Goode, The New York Times, March 10, 2012. Goode describes the history, negative effects, and extreme costs of solitary confinement and highlights the successful reforms made in Mississippi and other states.

Colorado Department of Corrections Administrative Segregation and Classification Review. This study published in Nov. 2011 by the National Institute of Corrections Prisons Division found that Colorado had an above average percentage of inmates being held in solitary confinement regardless of their mental states and that over 40 percent of them are later directly released into the community.  The findings and recommendations of the study led to significant reforms to limit the use of solitary confinement.

"Mississippi DOC's Emmit Sparkman on reducing the use of segregation in prisons" by Emmit Sparkman, Vera Institute of Justice, October 31, 2011.Sparkman is the Mississippi Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner and he provdescribes the benefits of reducing the use of segregation in prisons.

"Reform comes to the supermax" by Lance Tapley, The Portland Phoenix, May 25, 2011. Tapley describes how Maine's Corrections Commissioner, Joseph Ponte, cut long-term solitary confinement "supermax" unit populatioin by more than half.

"Beyond Supermax Administrative Segregation" by Kupers et al., Criminal Justice and Behavior, July 21, 2009.This article highlights Mississippi's experience in reducing the use of solitary confinement and improving mental health programs for inmates.

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