Solitary Watch is a watchdog project that investigates, documents, and disseminates information on the widespread use of solitary confinement out of the shadows and into the light of the public square. Our mission is to provide the public—as well as practicing attorneys, legal scholars, law enforcement and corrections officers, policymakers, educators, advocates, people in prison and their families—with the first centralized source of unfolding news, original reporting, firsthand accounts, and background research on solitary confinement in the United States. Out hope is that such information will catalyze discussion, debate, and change on a vital domestic human rights issue. (Scroll down for a detailed description.)
For more information, or to suggest stories, links, or resources for the site, email email@example.com, or write to Solitary Watch, PO Box 11374, Washington, D.C. 20008.
Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, Co-Directors and Editors
Katie Rose Quandt, Aviva Stahl, Contributing Writers
Marlies Talay, Lifelines to Solitary Coordinator
Joshua Manson, Mary Read, Reporter/Researchers
To apply for an internship as a Reporter/Researcher, click here.
Eighty 20 Group, Development Consultants
Lois Ahrens, Director, The Real Cost of Prisons Project
Stephen B. Bright, President and Senior Counsel, Southern Center for Human Rights
David Bruck, Professor and Director, Virginia Captial Case Clearinghouse, Washington and Lee University School of Law
David C. Fathi, Director, ACLU National Prison Project
Susan Greene, Editor in Chief, The Colorado Independent
Bonnie Kerness, Coordinator, Prison Watch Project and STOPMAX Campaign, American Friends Service Committee
Robert King, activist and author; survivor of 29 years in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Pententiary, Angola
Terry Kupers, MD, MSP, Institute Professor, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology; clinical psychiatrist and expert in forensic mental health
Rev. Stan Moody, Pastor, Meeting House Church, Manchester, ME; former chaplain, Maine State Prison
Michael B. Mushlin, Professor, Pace University School of Law
Wilbert Rideau, journalist and author; former prisoner and Angolite editor at the Louisiana State Pententiary, Angola
Laura Rovner, Associate Professor and Director, Civil Rights Clinic, University of Denver Sturm College of Law
Meryl Schwartz, Deputy Director, The Innocence Project
Jeffrey St. Clair, Editor, Counterpunch
Liliana Segura, Senior Editor, The Intercept
Charles Sullivan, Executive Director, CURE
Peter Wagner, Executive Director, Prison Policy Initiative
Affiliations are for identification purposes only.
We depend upon the community of readers to support this effort to bring the issue of solitary confinement in the United States out of the shadows and into the public square. Solitary Watch’s Investigative Reporting, Partnered Research Projects and Lifelines Letters Initiative rely on your generous support through donations at any level.
Solitary Watch is a project of Investigative News Network, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, which serves as its fiscal sponsor for all grants and donations. Donations to Solitary Watch through INN are 100% tax-deductible.
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The A.J. Muste Memorial Institute
Carol and Frank Biondi
The Hanley Foundation
Laura L. Rovner
Lois Ahrens • John Alcock • Julie Alley • Sofia Aranda • Amanda Aronczyk • Jane Asch • Jeanie Attie • Brandon B. Avery • Gayle Ayala • Ramin Bahrani • Quintin L. Bart • Christopher Beall • Jack Beck • Dale Bell • Pippa Bianco • Eve Bower • Margot Brinn • Rebecca Brown • Maria Browning • Jocelyn A. Burrell • Ray W. Cage • Ismail Cagee • Dolores Canales • Fr. Russ Carmichael • Jared Chausow • Simon Christie • Laura A. Clark • Therese Class • Bobby Cohen • Robert Cooper • Timothy W. Coursen • Megan Crowe-Rothstein • Alice J. Dan • Andrew G. Deman • Rachel Deutsch • William Dooley • Joan L. Duggan • Sally Eberhardt • Kate Edwards • Linda K. Engelberg • Bernadette Evangelist • Elspeth Farmer • David C. Fathi • Tamara Feingold-Link • Michael Fennell • Amy Fettig • Sara Marco Forrest • F. Frederic Fouad • Adriane Fugh-Berman • Joshua Fuson • Jonathan Galli • Julie Gandy • Judy Garvey • Sherry L. Geno • Frances Geteles-Shapiro • D.J. Gill • Daniel Goldman • Dianna Goodwin • Suzanne Gordon • Stuart E. Grassian • Susan Greene • Sharron Grodzinsky • Kristina Gronquist • Patricia Grossman • Lisa Guenther • Heather Hanko • Edward Hara • Stephen Hart • Umesh Heendeniya • Caitlin Hewitt-White • Harriet Holtzman • James Huitema • Portia Iversen • Linda K. Jansen • Amanda Johnson • Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster • Kurt Kaiser • Janice M. Keller • Rebecca Kelly • Helene Kendler • Bonnie Kerness • Matthew Krumm • Terry Kupers • Frances Lang Labaree • The Landriscina family, in memory of Father Walter A. Mitchell • Thomas Lawrence • Teresa LeClercq • Laura Legge • Marc H. Levin • Deb Levine and Richard Foxall • John Liebau • Eunice Lipton • Phillip Locke • Gabriel London • Peter Lovenheim • Chase Madar • Louis Maripolsky • Michael Matheron • John P. McKay • Carla B. McLean • Andrew J. McKenna • Jose Medina • Rebecca A. Melton • Alison Meyer • Judy Miekle • Arthur Milholland • Katie Mitchell • Michael Molitch-Hou • Edmund Moloney • Valeria Monfrini • Diana Jo Montes-Walker• Amanda Moore • Teresa Morden • William Moser • Yasmin Narayan • Dion Nania • Susan Ohanian • Cynthia J. Otiso • Anne Otto • Lisa E. Overton • Ariel Page • Jennifer J. Parish • Dean Pasvankias • Patrick Paxton • Robert Pfister • Barry Phillips • Eric Pilch • Anne C. Pratt • Vanessa Pronovost • Sarah Randolph • Selma A. Rayfiel • Martha Rayner • Helen Redmond • • Tom Robbins • Susan Rosenberg • Linda Rousseau • Carol Rubin • Donna M. Rueth • Sally Rumble • Patricia Russell • Richard A. Sanchez • Christine M. Sarteschi • Margo Schlanger • Cathy Schneider • Meryl Schwartz and David Weinraub • Sarah Shourd • Geri Silva • Jenny E. Sommer • Evelyn Staus • Jackie Sumell • Eve Taggart • Stephen Tappis • Connie Taylor • Jefferson Taylor • Kathleen Taylor • Jeanne Theoharis • Joseph Thuemler • Stacy Tomlinson Jean R. Trounstine • Royce Truex • Holland Vaughn • Peter Wagner • Sadhbh Walsh • Paul G. Warrick • Jennifer A. Wedekind • Ryan Weismann-Ye • Rachel Weiss • Joel Weissburg • Lisa V. West • Emily Weserholm • Leonora Wiener • David Wilhelm • Amy R. Willis • Janet L. Wolfe • Marilyn E. Wood • Lisa Wright • Jeffrey Vogel • Bonnie S. Young • Angelique Yoseloff • Jasmine Zahid • Michael Zagone • Tom Zerucha • Joan Zimmerman • Ann Zimmerschied
We also wish to acknowledge the formerly incarcerated people who have shared with us their unique knowledge and experience, and the currently incarcerated people who have written to inform us about conditions in solitary, sometimes at considerable risk of retaliation.
The use and abuse of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons is one of the most pressing domestic human rights issues in America today—and also one of the most invisible. Today, at least 25,000 individuals are being held in long-term solitary in the nation’s “supermax” facilities. According to available data, the total number of men, women, and children living in solitary confinement in all prisons exceeds 80,000.
Far from being a last-resort measure reserved for the “worst of the worst,” solitary confinement has become a control strategy of first resort in many prisons. This despite the fact that it has never been shown to serve any legitimate penological purpose, and may actually increase both prison violence and recidivism. Today, individuals can be placed in complete isolation for months or years not only for violent acts but for possessing contraband, using drugs, ignoring orders, or using profanity. Thousands more are held in indefinite solitary confinement because they have been “validated” as gang members, based on highly questionable information. Others have ended up in solitary because they have untreated mental illnesses, are children in need of “protection,” are gay or transgender, are Muslim, have unsavory political beliefs, or report rape or abuse by prison officials. In Virginia, a dozen Rastafarian men have been in solitary for ten years because they refuse to cut their hair on religious grounds.
For the people who endure it, life in solitary confinement means spending at least 23 hours a day in a cell that measures, on average, 6 x 9 feet, within supermax prisons or prison units that have made a science out of isolation. Their meals generally come through slots in the solid steel doors of their cells, as do any communications with prison staff. Some are permitted to exercise one hour a day, alone, in a fenced or walled “dog run.” Individuals in solitary confinement may be denied visits, telephone calls, television, reading materials, and art supplies. And they can remain in isolation for months, years, or decades. In Louisiana, two men now in their sixties and seventies have been in solitary confinement for more than 41 years.
Numerous studies have found evidence of the psychological damage caused by solitary confinement. One recent federal court case called solitary confinement units “virtual incubators of psychoses–seeding illness in otherwise healthy prisoners and exacerbating illness in those already suffering from mental infirmities” (Ruiz v. Johnson 2001). As little as a week in solitary has been shown to affect EEG activity, while longer stretches produce psychopathologies at an alarmingly high rate. For those already suffering from or prone to mental illness–which in some states can make up nearly half of all people held in solitary–solitary confinement can cause irreparable psychological damage, as well as extreme mental anguish. Studies in New York and California have shown that a highly disproportionate number of prison suicides take place in solitary confinement.
Polls show that a clear majority of Americans oppose the use of torture under any circumstances, even on foreign terrorism suspects. Yet conditions in U.S. prisons and jails, which at times transgress the boundaries of humane treatment, have produced little outcry. The widespread practice of solitary confinement, in particular, has received scant media attention, and has yet to find a firm place in the public discourse or on political platforms.
Solitary Watch produces a daily blog, as well as longer investigative articles and fact sheets on various aspects of solitary confinement, and maintains a comprehensive library of resources on solitary confinement. A quarterly print edition is sent free of charge to prisoners and advocates. Solitary Watch also publishes “Voices from Solitary”—firsthand writing and video testimonies that give a human face to the facts and figures, and to a subset of people that is even more invisible than the prison population at large.
Recent activism against solitary confinement by the American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee, and National Religious Campaign Against Torture, as well as grassroots groups and people in prison themselves, clearly show that this is an issue whose time has come. The goal of Solitary Watch is to support and inform these efforts by providing vital information and reporting, and to help place solitary confinement on the public agenda as an undeniable issue of basic human rights.
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