Are Prisoners with Mental Illness Targeted for Solitary Confinement?

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A new study by researchers at Florida State University (FSU) examining the issue of whether incarcerated people with mental illness are more likely to be placed in solitary confinement found that having a mental illness was associated with a significant increase in the likelihood of being placed in extended solitary confinement, reports Phys.org. Researchers studied 155,018 men who entered prisons in a large state on or after July 1, 2007, and were released on or before December 31, 2015. The men were assessed within 60 days of their arrival to determine if they met criteria for psychiatric diagnosis. More than 15,000 of the men were diagnosed with a mental health condition.

The study found that one percent of all of the men were placed in extended solitary confinement after 60 days. It also found that prisoners with mental illness were up to 170 percent more likely to be placed for extended periods of time in solitary, depending on their diagnosis. This increased risk is higher than identified by previous research. The higher risk was present for a variety of mental health disorders (including bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, psychotic antisocial personality disorder, and other personality disorders, but not disorders related to anxiety, impulse control, and post-traumatic stress), and only partially explained by prison misconduct, the authors note. Although differences in how men and women are housed in the facilities studied prevented a complete examination of women, the researchers note that the main results for women were substantively similar to those for men.

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