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The Mental and Emotional Impact of Solitary Confinement on Inmates in Correctional Facilities


There are 80,000 prisoners minimum that are living out their sentences in a form of isolation and confinement, as well as 25,000 prisoners in super maximum-security prisons (Mears 2013, n.p.). Solitary confinement, also called ‘segregation’, is usually defined by an inmate who spends 22-24 hours of their daily lives confined to a small cell, without sunlight, books, music or human interaction (Appelbaum 2015, n.p.). Although there is an extensive amount of research proving that the consequences of solitary confinement are profoundly negative, much of the Unites States still uses it. This is one of the major social issues of our time that is largely ignored by the mainstream. The reality is, that many inmates that are kept in solitary confinement self-harm and attempt suicide; in some cases, they succeed in taking their own lives. This topic is not only important to the individuals being placed in solitary confinement, but it is also a public health issue that has not been fully addressed by the psychological community. In order to put an end to solitary confinement, we have to be able to prove, through research and observation, that the consequences of solitary confinement are detrimental to inmate’s mental health.

This article examines the effects of solitary confinement on previously and currently incarcerated inmates in correctional facilities and super maximum-security prisons. It will define what solitary confinement is, and what it was originally intended to be used for. It will also show evidence of the health risks, emotional, and psychological damage that solitary confinement has been shown to cause. This topic is important, not only to those living in solitary confinement, but to the psychological community and society as a whole. As a direct result of solitary confinement many people are currently experiencing what some deem as torture. Until this is addressed and solitary confinement is abolished, research needs to continue and laws need to change.

Intent of Supermax prisons and Solitary Confinement

Super maximum-security prisons (also called ‘supermaxes’) hold thousands of inmates across the United States in long-term solitary confinement (Reiter 2012, n.p.). Prisoners incarcerated in these supermax prisons are held in their cells for 22-23 hours of every day, receiving their meals through a slot in the door. Prisoners have no human interaction for days, weeks, months and even years at a time. The fluorescent lights remain on in their cells day and night (Reiter 2012, n.p.). Reiter stated that: “Correctional administrators have been known to say that supermax prisoners are the ‘worst of the worst’ and ‘most violent’ prisoners” (Reiter 2012, p. 2).

Super maximum-security prisons have come about in the last 30 years, in correlation with the “get tough” policies and a call for accountability from the government (Mears 2013, n.p.). Researchers also state that the reason why supermax housing has increased is because of the concern of the rise of the number of inmates, which made it more difficult to manage aggressive and violent behaviors of inmates (Mears 2013, n.p.). Being placed in supermax housing has nothing to do with the sentence a prisoner has received, rather it is an administrative decision made by correctional officials (Mears 2013, n.p.). Prisoners in supermax housing, isolation, segregation, and solitary confinement do not have access to programs, resources, or visitation.  In a sense these prisoners live in their own one-cell world.


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