Rethinking Solitary Confinement: Where Do We Go From Here?


Photo by jmiller291 via Flickr

A Symposium for Journalists and the Public

Sponsored by John Jay College’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice, and the Langeloth Foundation

The practice of solitary confinement is emerging as one of the critical frontiers of criminal justice reform. In January 2016, President Barack Obama announced new rules limiting the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons (and a total ban on juvenile solitary confinement in federal facilities). “The U.S. is a nation of second chances,” he wrote in an unusual Op Ed for The Washington Post, explaining his decision. “But the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance.”

However, his recommendations, striking as they were, affected less than 10 percent of the number of Americans (between 80,000-100,000) who are confined to so-called segregated or isolated units every year—and will affect only a miniscule number of juvenile detainees.

Where do we go from here?  How effective are efforts underway across the US to address the  disproportional impact of the practice on Americans of color and, in particular, on juvenile offenders?

Much of the current debate centers on whether solitary confinement should be banned outright as a form of torture. Other proposals, advanced by those who believe it is still a significant correctional tool, are aimed at ameliorating the mental and physical health effects.

On April 26-27, 2018, journalists from around the country will gather at John Jay College to participate in a conference sponsored by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay with leading experts, researchers, advocates and victims of solitary to assess and examine current research. The conference and fellowship program are supported by the Langeloth Foundation.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Leann Bertsch, president of the Association of State Correctional Administrators; director of North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation;
  • Johnny Perez, director of U.S. Prisons Policy/Together to End Solitary Confinement;
  • Anthony Graves, exonerated, former Texas death row and solitary confinement inmate; author of “Infinite Hope;” founder/executive director of Anthony Graves Foundation;
  • Marsha Levick, chief counsel and co-founder of Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center;
  • Former U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlen, who, responding to a class-action suit, in 2016 ordered New York’s prisons to limit the “frequency, duration and severity” of solitary confinement;
  • U.S. District Judge James Peterson, who in September 2017 ordered Wisconsin to end solitary confinement of juveniles and allowed a class-action lawsuit against a couple of the state’s juvenile detention centers..
  • Solitary Watch investigative journalist and editor Jean Casella, co-author of Hell is a Very Small Place.

A limited number of spaces are available to the public.

If you are interested in attending, please fill out this form.  If you have questions about the event, please contact CMCJ administrator Ricardo Martinez at

 The agenda for the conference can be downloaded here.

For further background on the policy challenges presented by solitary, please read the article  by Katti Gray, contributing editor of The Crime Report, and the designated journalism coordinator for this project.


PLEASE NOTE: During the week of April 23-27, a model, walk-through solitary cell will be installed on the John Jay campus. On April 25, the John Jay Student Affairs Office, Public Square Media and NARCAT will host a special discussion panel on “Solitary and Rikers.”  The event is open to the public. For further information, please contact  or the office of John Jay’s communications/office of marketing and development @ For more information about the Solitary Week events, please click here.


Many news organizations have been covering solitary confinement. A useful place to start is the series of articles produced this year by The Marshall Project.

You may also be interested in looking at reports on the topic. in January 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice produced this important Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing.  And in 2015, John Jay College hosted a special colloqium on the practice, followed by this report.