Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Eight Principles for Reforming Solitary Confinement

Eight Principles for Reforming Solitary Confinement

Schlanger, Margo and Amy Fettig, “Eight Principles for Reforming Solitary Confinement,” American Prospect, Fall 2015.


“As we move away from the harshly punitive policies of recent decades, our aim shouldn’t only be cutting the rate of incarceration. We also need to ameliorate the conditions of confinement—and in fact, we’ve already begun making progress. In 2003, public concern about sexual assault in jails and prisons led to passage of the landmark Prison Rape Elimination Act, now (at long last) reflected in a nationwide regulation aimed at curbing sexual abuse.

A separate effort to reform solitary confinement is in an earlier phase. Although some states have taken steps to reform solitary, no one has yet spelled out systematically what needs to be done. That’s the goal of this article: to set out the latent principles of current reform efforts and make the case for pursuing them intensively. …

Since 2010, efforts to reform solitary confinement have made headway in almost half the states. Federal class-action lawsuits have led to changes in ten states, and additional legislative and policy measures in 14 others. Some measures have been halting and piecemeal, others more thoroughgoing. …

Eight reform principles are emerging from these efforts. These principles would limit who is subject to solitary and for how long, make the conditions of confinement more humane, and provide necessary oversight of the practice.”


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Keywords: reform efforts, limitations on solitary confinement, super-max, supermax, long-term solitary confinement, long-term segregation, protective custody, disciplinary segregation, mental health, serious mental illness, seriously mentally ill, sensory deprivation, mental health care, medical care, healthcare, step-down programs, incentives, oversight, data