[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do not publish the relevant data, and many do not 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 
a recent 
article on solitary confinement in Virginia, 
noted that “44 states
use solitary confinement,” 
and cited an “estimated 25,000 people in solitary 
in the nation’s 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 nation’s 
overall use of solitary confinement.

An alternative figure does, however, exist–and 
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 Justice‘s Segregation Reduction 
Project. The 80,000 figure has also been used by 
Geographic and 
New Yorker, among others.

An earlier version of this number, from the 
Bureau of Justice Statistics’s 2000 census, was 
cited by the widely respected 
on Safety and Abuse in America’s 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 Commission’s 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 York’s 
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 
of Prisons 
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 
Assembly’s Public Safety Committee that 
approximately 3,000 inmates were held in 
California’s 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 violations–for 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 state’s Restrictive Housing Units.
    * A 
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 segregation–for 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 Arizona’s 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 America’s prisons 
and jails, including some 25,000 in long-term solitary in supermax prisons.”

Research for this article was provided by Sal Rodriguez.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/ppnews_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20120201/111a34c6/attachment.html>

More information about the PPnews mailing list