Public Health and Solitary Confinement in the United States

Am J Public Health. 2015 Jan;105(1):18-26. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302205.


The history of solitary confinement in the United States stretches from the silent prisons of 200 years ago to today's supermax prisons, mechanized panopticons that isolate tens of thousands, sometimes for decades. We examined the living conditions and characteristics of the populations in solitary confinement. As part of the growing movement for reform, public health agencies have an ethical obligation to help address the excessive use of solitary confinement in jails and prisons in accordance with established public health functions (e.g., violence prevention, health equity, surveillance, and minimizing of occupational and psychological hazards for correctional staff). Public health professionals should lead efforts to replace reliance on this overly punitive correctional policy with models based on rehabilitation and restorative justice.