Center on Sentencing and Corrections

The Effect of Solitary Confinement on Institutional Misconduct

A Longitudinal Evaluation

The Effect of Solitary Confinement on Institutional Misconduct

Labrecque, Ryan. “The Effect of Solitary Confinement on Institutional Misconduct: A Longitudinal Evaluation.” (PhD diss., University of Cincinnati, 2015).


“Solitary confinement (SC) has been an important component of the American prison system since the emergence of the penitentiaries in the early 1800s. The main criticism of SC has long been that it causes inhabitants undue psychological distress and by extension increases propensity toward criminal behavior. The use of SC raises constitutional and humanitarian concerns, with critics who charge the practice constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, is inhumane, and violates the minimum standards of decency. However, SC is also a management tool [that] correctional officials have come to rely upon for the effective management of prisons, and many would not waiver in the contention that SC is needed to ensure the safety and security of these institutions. Thus, there remains an active debate in the literature and in practice with respect to how SC influences criminal behavior in which three claims have been made: (1) SC decreases criminal behavior; (2) SC increases criminal behavior; and (3) SC has little, if any, effect on criminal behavior.

Surprisingly, despite its long-standing and widespread use, SC has remained an elusive subject in empirical research, especially in terms of its effects on behavioral outcomes. This dissertation adds to this gap in knowledge by providing a longitudinal evaluation of the effect of SC on institutional misconduct in a sample of 14,311 inmates in the state of Ohio. The results of this study indicate SC does not have any significant effect on the prevalence or incidence of subsequent violent, nonviolent, or drug misconduct. Policy implications and recommendations based on these findings are discussed.”

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Keywords: Solitary Confinement, American prison system, mental health, psychological effects, cruel and unusual punishment, effective prison management