Solitary Confinement: Where Do We Go From Here?

solitary confinementA Symposium for Journalists

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.

Twenty-four journalists were selected as John Jay/Langeloth Justice Reporting fellows. Their names and short biographies can be viewed here.

The agenda for the conference can be viewed here.


The conference is one of the highlights of John Jay’s “Solitary Week.” During the week of  April 23-27, a multimedia presentation organized by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) and sponsored by Public Square Media will provide special showings of the documentary, “Rikers: An American Jail,” a panel (April 25) focusing on the use of solitary at New York’s Rikers Island facility, and a replica of a solitary cell which visitors can walk through. Information about the events is available here.


Solitary Confinement Called ’21st Century Slavery.’ by Megan Hadley, The Crime Report, April 26, 2018.

Solitary Confinement Called ‘21st Century Slavery’


Solitary Confinement Policies at ‘Tipping Point’ in US, say Reformers. by Nancy Bilyeau, The Crime Report, April 27, 2018.

Solitary Confinement Policies at ‘Tipping Point’ in U.S., say Reformers

Survivors of Solitary Still Haunted by Memories. by Stephen Handelman, The Crime Report, April 30, 2018

Survivors of Solitary: Still Haunted by Memories



Below you can find links to reports, stories and other useful resources on solitary. Please check back on this page regularly for updates!

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.


Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restricted Housing. January 2016. Department of Justice

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT: Report on a Colloquium to Further a National Consensus On Ending the Over-Use of Extreme Isolation in Prisons. Sept 30-Oct 1, 2015, John Jay College of Justice

Prison Access Laws. Society of Professional Journalists

Reduce Jail Violence. Proposals to reduce jail violence in the NYC Department of Correction. 2018. Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (NY), 2018.


Michael Barajas, Texas Observer

Oct. 10, 2018  Texas Leads the Nation in Solitary Confinement

Keri Blakinger, Houston Chronicle

April 29 2018  Harris County Solitary Numbers Fall 5 Years After Scandal

Aug. 19, 2018   ‘They Gave Him the Tools to Kill Himself’

A Suicide in Solitary: ‘They Gave Him the Tools to Kill Himself’

Cheryl Corley, NPR

July 31, 2018

North Dakota Changes the Rules on Solitary



For further background on the policy challenges presented by Solitary, a good place to start is this article  by Katti Gray, contributing editor of The Crime Report, and the designated journalism coordinator for this project.

Also worth noting:

Fortresses of Solitude. Columbia Journalism Review, by James Ridgeway

Letters from the Hole. Solitary Watch

The Rise and Fall of Colorado’s Supermax. by Dr. Susan Jones

The Marshall Project (Series on Solitary Confinement), 2018

The Crime Report archives contain a rich source of articles and commentary. Here’s a shortlist we’ve culled from our files, covering 2015-2018:

PA Inmates Challenge Death Row Solitary Confinement Jan 26, 2018

GA Inmate Suicides Rise; Solitary Confinement Cited Dec. 12, 2017

Pennsylvania Slow to Cut Use of Solitary Confinement Oct 28, 2017

Texas Ends Solitary Confinement for Rule-Breaking Sept 22, 2017

Study Faults Use of Solitary Confinement on TX Death Row April 27, 2017

How Florida Prisons Use Solitary Confinement  April 14, 2017

NC Cuts Solitary Confinement, Issues Remain April 11, 2017

 Federal Appeals Court Rules Against Solitary Confinement Feb 13, 2017

 Christie Vetoes Bill to Limit NJ Solitary Confinement Dec. 8, 2016

 Minnesota Still Relies on Long Prison Solitary Confinement  Dec 4, 2016

The ‘Misery of Solitary Confinement’  Nov 1, 2016

 NYC Ends Solitary Confinement For Youths Under 21 Oct 12, 2016

 Solitary Confinement—or ‘Room Confinement’? Oct. 12, 2016 

Solitary Confinement in Jails A Largely Hidden Issue  Sept 26, 2016

Cruel & Unusual? Colorado Rethinks Solitary Confinement June 16, 2016

How Routine Traffic Stop Led To Six Months In Solitary Confinement  Jan 30, 2016

How Journalist Ridgeway Tells The Stories Of Solitary Confinement  Jan 29, 2016

Indiana Becomes Latest State To Adopt Solitary Confinement Reforms  Jan 29, 2016

How Michigan Prison Led The Way In Reducing Solitary Confinement Jan 7, 2016

Nutraloaf Out For NY Inmates In Solitary Confinement Reform  Dec. 17, 2015