January 2022, Austin– Right On Crime, a national conservative justice reform campaign of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, released a new research paper today outlining a bi-partisan case for major reforms in our federal solitary confinement policies, A Call to Reform Federal Solitary Confinement. 

This paper is the latest installment in a series of publications entailing prescriptions for local, state, and federal prison reform. 

“Federal solitary confinement is in desperate need of repair, and we are seeing a growuing bipartisan consensus for reform”

Right On Crime Executive Director and former U.S. attorney, Brett Tolman

“Federal solitary confinement is in desperate need of repair, and we are seeing a growing bipartisan consensus for reform,” said Right On Crime Executive Director and former U.S. attorney, Brett Tolman. “While brief periods of isolation may occasionally be necessary to maintain the safety of inmates and staff, how we treat them behind bars often reflects their behavior when they are released into our communities.” 

What was once considered a last-resort disciplinary practice in federal prisons has morphed into a default option when other correctional and administrative protocols fail.  Officers who work in chaotic and hostile work environments are more likely to use retaliatory measures like solitary confinement with little to no oversight or limitation.

The international standard defines a period of confinement beyond 15 consecutive days as “inhumane, degrading treatment, and harmful to an individual’s health.” 

“When an inmate is in solitary for a legitimate reason, it may not engender our sympathy, but they still require our attention,” said Lars Trautman, Right On Crime National Director. “Research has time and again shown the terrible effects of solitary confinement on a person’s mental and physical health. Add to the fact they’re not receiving rehabilitative programming or other services, and rather than removing a security risk, we are taking potentially unstable individuals and making them worse.” 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) website lists insufficient data with scant or no information on the precise order of operations for types of inmate infractions. The agency also lacks thorough publications of hearings, and data is limited for the total length of time served in solitary confinement by each inmate. In August of 2020, the BOP website listed federal prisons averaged 9,655 inmates in Special Housing Units (about 7.4% of the total inmate population).

Of these 9,655 individuals, an average of 8,251 were held in administrative detention units, while 1,414 were held in disciplinary segregation. 

While research proves extended solitary policies do not reduce recidivism, it’s important to note that due to strict Institutional Review Board policies and clandestine practices of the BOP, research and data for solitary confinement in both punitive and non-punitive cases is limited. This new research paper suggests policy solutions of:

  • More data & transparency- enhancing due process.
  • Expanding programming and privileges for those in solitary.
  • And, improving protocols to prevent suicides, violence, and corruption.

 The report, A Call to Reform Federal Solitary Confinement, was authored by Texas Public Policy Foundation Policy Scholars Ilanit Turner and Noelle Collins.The full research can be found here.