Dear Readers:

Welcome to SWASC’s e-newsletter “End Solitary”! We  STAND UP for Social Justice and Human Rights through outreach, advocacy, education and legislation in our efforts to END SOLITARY CONFINEMENT. We hope you will join us!

You can contact SWASC on our website, join us on our listserv and monthly phone meeting or contact us directly at

Solitary confinement of prisoners goes by a number of names—isolation, SHU (special housing units), administrative segregation, supermax prisons, the hole, MCU (management control units), CMU (communications management units), STGMU (security threat group management units), voluntary or involuntary protective custody, special needs units, or permanent lockdown.

Although solitary confinement conditions vary from state to state and among correctional facilities, systematic policies and conditions include:

  • Confinement behind a solid steel door for 22 to 24 hours a day
  • Severely limited contact with other human beings
  • Infrequent phone calls and rare non-contact family visits
  • Extremely limited access to rehabilitative or educational programming
  • Grossly inadequate medical and mental health treatment
  • Restricted reading material and personal property
  • Physical torture such as hog-tying, restraint chairs, forced cell extraction
  • “No-touch torture,” such as sensory deprivation, permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures, and forced insomnia
  • Chemical torture, such as stun grenades and stun guns
  • Sexual intimidation and other forms of brutality and humiliation

Thousands of social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other helping and health professionals work in this cruel, torturous system. Many of them struggle with the dual loyalty conflict of treating their patients/clients in a punitive torturous environment, and their commitment to their patients/human rights. They are at serious risk of recrimination for their attempts to protest or improve conditions.

SWASC is indebted to the National Commission on Correctional Health Care for its Position Statement on Solitary Confinement. We quote:

In recent years, there has been increasing controversy over the use of solitary confinement in the nations’ jails, prisons, and juvenile detention centers. Many national and international organizations have recognized prolonged solitary confinement as cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, and harmful to an individual’s health. In its position statement on Solitary Confinement  NCCHC declares:

  1. Correctional health professionals’ duty is to the clinical care, physical safety, and psychological wellness of their patients.
  2. Correctional health professionals should not condone or participate in cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of inmates…..

This position statement has been developed to assist health care professionals in addressing the use of solitary confinement in the facilities in which they work.

  1. Prolonged (greater than 15 consecutive days) solitary confinement is cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, and harmful to an individual’s health.
  2. Juveniles28, mentally ill individuals, and pregnant women should be excluded from solitary confinement of any duration.
  3. Correctional health professionals should not condone or participate in cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of adults or juveniles in custody.
  4. Prolonged solitary confinement should be eliminated as a means of punishment.
  5. Solitary confinement as an administrative method of maintaining security should be used only as an exceptional measure when other, less restrictive options are not available, and then for the shortest time possible. Solitary confinement should never exceed 15 days. In those rare cases where longer isolation is required to protect the safety of staff and/or other inmates, more humane conditions of confinement need to be utilized.
  6. Correctional health professionals’ duty is the clinical care, physical safety, and psychological wellness of their patients.
  7. Isolation for clinical or therapeutic purposes should be allowed only upon the order of a health care professional and for the shortest duration and under the least restrictive conditions possible, and should take place in a clinically designated and supervised area.
  8. Individuals who are separated from the general population for their own protection should be housed in the least restrictive conditions possible.
  9. Health staff must not be involved in determining whether adults or juveniles are physically or psychologically able to be placed in isolation.
  10. Individuals in solitary confinement, like other inmates, are entitled to health care that is consistent with the community standard of care.
  11. Health care staff should evaluate individuals in solitary confinement upon placement and thereafter, on at least a daily basis. They should provide them with prompt medical assistance and treatment as required.
  12. Health care staff must advocate so that individuals are removed from solitary confinement if their medical or mental health deteriorates or if necessary services cannot be provided.
  13. Principles of respect and medical confidentiality must be observed for patients who are in solitary confinement. Medical examinations should occur in clinical areas where privacy can be ensured. Patients should be examined without restraints and without the presence of custody staff unless there is a high risk of violence. In situations where this cannot occur, the patient’s privacy, dignity, and confidentiality should be maintained as much as possible. If custody staff must be present, they should maintain visual contact, but remain at a distance that provides auditory privacy.
  14. Health care staff should ensure that the hygiene and cleanliness of individuals in solitary confinement and their housing areas are maintained; that they are receiving sufficient food, water, clothing, and exercise; and that the heating, lighting, and ventilation are adequate.
  15. Adults and juveniles in solitary confinement should have as much human contact as possible with people from outside the facility and with custodial, educational, religious, and medical staff.
  16. Appropriate programs need to be available to individuals in confinement to assist them with the transition to other housing units or the community, if released from isolation to the community.
  17. In systems that do not conform to international standards, health care staff should advocate with correctional officials to establish policies prohibiting the use of solitary confinement for juveniles and mentally ill individuals, and limiting its use to less than 15 days for all others.

Adopted by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care Board of Directors, April 10, 2016