[Ppnews] How Many Prisoners Are in Solitary Confinement in the United States?
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 1 18:03:58 EST 2012
How Many Prisoners Are in Solitary Confinement in the United States?
February 1, 2012
Casella and James Ridgeway
The number of inmates held in solitary
confinement in the United States has been
notoriously difficult to determine. Most states
do not publish the relevant data, and many do not
even collect it. Attempts to come up with a
figure have been
as imperfect, based on state-by-state variances
and shortcomings in data-gathering and in
conceptions of what constitutes solitary confinement.
A widely accepted
study found that some 25,000 prisoners were being
held in supermax prisons around the country. And
in the last year, that figure seems to dominate
in the mainstream press. The Washington Post, in
article on solitary confinement in Virginia,
noted that 44 states
use solitary confinement,
and cited an estimated 25,000 people in solitary
in the nations state and federal prisons. The
problem here is that the 25,000 figure (as well
as the 44) applies to supermax prisons only. It
does not claim to account for the tens of
thousands of additional prisoners held in the
Secure Housing Units, Restricted Housing Units,
Special Management Units and other isolation
cells in prisons and jails around the country.
Yet it is being cited as a total for the nations
overall use of solitary confinement.
An alternative figure does, however, existand
while it may not be perfect, we believe it more
accurately reflects the total number of prisoners
held in isolated confinement on any given day. A
census of state and federal prisoners is
conducted every five years by the federal Bureau
of Justice Statistics. The most recent census for
which data are available is 2005. It found 81,622
inmates were being held in restricted housing.
This number was recently cited by the
Institute of Justices Segregation Reduction
Project. The 80,000 figure has also been used by
New Yorker, among others.
An earlier version of this number, from the
Bureau of Justice Statisticss 2000 census, was
cited by the widely respected
on Safety and Abuse in Americas Prisons,
convened by Vera. The Commission further broke
the figure down to show types of restricted
housing. In 2000, the BJS found 80,870 inmates
in some form of segregation, including 36,499 in
administrative segregation, 33,586 in
disciplinary segregation, and 10,765 in
protective custody. The Commission noted that the
2000 figures represented a 40 percent increase
over 1995, when 57,591 inmates were in
segregation. During the same period of time, the
overall prison population grew by 28 percent.
(See page 56 of the Commissions 2006 report,
The census uses the term restricted housing,
which clearly includes segregation units outside
of supermax prisons. Since it captures where
prisoners are housed on a given day (June 30,
2005), it is meant to include both long-term or
indefinite isolation (years or decades) as well
as shorter stints in solitary (weeks or months).
It may include a small number of prisoners who
are held in 23-hour lockdown in double cells, a
practice popular in some states. (For this
reason, some advocates prefer the term isolated
confinement to solitary confinement). The
number is based on self-reporting by wardens and
state corrections departments, so it may reflect
some errors and inconsistencies. But prison
officials are not, as a rule, known for their
tendency to overrreport the number of inmates they hold in solitary.
It is also worth noting that the census figures
do not include prisoners in solitary confinement
in juvenile facilities, immigrant detention
centers, or local jails; if they did they would
certainly be higher. We know that New Yorks
jails alone contain 990 isolation cells,
according to the
York City Department of Corrections.
A survey of available data from a handful of
states also suggest that the 80,000 figure is
likely low, rather than high. Just eight states
and the federal government hold some 44,000 prisoners in isolated confinement.
* In 2010, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau
CNN that there were about 11,150 federal inmates
being held in special housing. ADX Florence
holds approximately 400 of these inmates in ultra-isolation.
* In California in 2011, Scott Kernan,
Undersecretary of Operations of the California
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,
testified before the
Assemblys Public Safety Committee that
approximately 3,000 inmates were held in
Californias Security Housing Units, including
over 1,100 at the Pelican Bay State Prison SHU
alone. A 2009 report from
Inspector General found 8,878 inmates in
Administrative Segregation Units. This means
that, all told, there are close to 11,000
prisoners in solitary confinement in California.
* As reported by the
Chronicle based on figures from the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice, in 2011 there
were over 5,205 inmates in long-term isolation in
administrative segregation, and approximately
4,000 more serving shorter terms in solitary for
disciplinary violationsfor a total of more than 9,000.
* According to a 2003 report by the
Association, New York state had approximately
5,000 inmates in disciplinary lockdown in 2003.
* At the end of 2011,
Department of Corrections reported that 2,406
inmates were held in segregation in the states Restrictive Housing Units.
study by independent researchers funded by the
National Institute of Corrections found that
nearly 1,500 inmates, or 7% of the prison
population, were in administrative segregation
and a further 670 in disciplinary segregationfor a total of more than 2,100.
* In Virginia, according to
2012 article in the Washington
there were 1,800 inmates in solitary confinement,
500 of whom are held at the supermax Red Onion State Prison.
* A 2007 report by the
Friends Service Committee found 1,623 inmates
held in isolation in Arizonas SHUs.
* In a 2008 report to the state legislature,
Department of Corrections said that that the
daily average number of inmates held in
administrative segregation in FY 2007-08 was 1,294.
In our opinion, the most accurate possible
description of how many prisoners are solitary
confinement in the United States would go
something like this: Based on available data,
there are at least 80,000 prisoners in isolated
confinement on any given day in Americas prisons
and jails, including some 25,000 in long-term solitary in supermax prisons.
Research for this article was provided by Sal Rodriguez.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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