Home Community Corrections Theories of Ensuring Safety in Supermax Housing

Theories of Ensuring Safety in Supermax Housing


Research has shown that there has never been an intended goal set for the use of supermax housing and solitary confinement, although researchers do agree that most prison officials and policy makers “justify supermaxes on the grounds that they serve to ‘control’ the ‘worst of the worst’” (Mears 2013, p. 7). As Appelbaum states in his research, “the arguments in support of solitary confinement fall into three main categories: it ensures the safety of the inmate and others, it can effect behavioral change, and it is a punishment for infractions” (Applebaum 2015, para. 5). Although many people believe that the inmates placed in solitary confinement are placed there to ensure their own safety and the safety of other inmates and prison employees, the majority of these inmates are placed there for nonviolent violations (Appelbaum, 2015). Thus the argument in support of solitary confinement for the use of ensuring the safety of correctional facilities is a facade.

Statistics and Demographics:

There are an estimated 25,000 prisoners in supermax/solitary confinement in the United States. In a study done by Margo Schlanger, published in the 2013 Michigan Journal of Race & Law, the research reports the demographics in eight selected supermax facilities. It’s important to point out that the census done by the U.S. Department Bureau of Justice does not directly address the issue of prisoners in solitary confinement, but there is still enough data in the 2005 census report to provide an analysis on eight different state facilities (Schlanger 2013). These eight selected supermax facilities are in the following states: New York, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Out of these eight selected supermax housing facilities in the United States, the two states that have the largest concentrations of prisoners placed in supermax housing are New York and New Jersey. According to Schlanger, the 2005 prison census shows there were 1,038,363 inmates placed in solitary confinement in the United States in 2005. Out of the 1,038,363 inmates in prison, 37.6% were white, 43.1% were black, 16.0% were Hispanic and 3.2% were “other” (Schlanger 2013). In New York City, in 2005, there were 55,197 prisoners in prison and out of that number, there were 4,293 prisoners housed in supermax housing. Out of the 4,293 prisoners housed in supermax housing, 14.6% were white, 59.0% were black, 24.7% were Hispanic and 1.7% were “other” (Schlanger, 2013). In the New Jersey State Prison, in 2005, there were 23,176 prisoners; out of these 23,176 prisoners, 1,825 were housed in a supermax unit (Schlanger 2013). Out of the 1,825 prisoners housed in a supermax unit, 19.8% were white, 65.2% were black, 14.1% were Hispanic and 0.9% were “other” (Schlanger, 2013). In New York and New Jersey black prisoners made up the majority of prisoners housed in supermax units. In New Jersey black people made up 12.8% of the total population and 65.2% of that population was imprisoned supermax housing.



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