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Administrative Segregation in U.S. Prisons

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2016
42 pages
This review of research conducted on the features, uses, and effects of administrative segregation in U.S. correctional facilities first presents the history and contemporary use of administrative segregation, followed by an examination of issues related to the use of solitary confinement, relevant court decisions and consent decrees, the utility and effects of administrative segregation and solitary confinement, and the future of administrative segregation.
The introductory section notes that given the variety of terms used to describe various practices that separate individual inmates from the general inmate population, the authors decided not to use "administrative segregation" as an umbrella term. They use the terms "segregation" or "segregation in restricted housing units." The authors distinguish between solitary confinement through "disciplinary segregation," which refers to short-term confinement after a specific infraction, and solitary confinement through "administrative segregation," which refers to long-term classification to a "supermax" unit or facility within a correctional system. The first part of the paper focuses on administrative segregation rather than disciplinary segregation; however, the discussion of the empirical research refers more broadly to solitary confinement. After reviewing the research, the authors conclude that few researchers question that some prisoners being held in isolation are exceptionally dangerous and violent, which might require some type of segregation; on the other hand, few would also conclude that all, or even most, prisoners held in isolation require the type of solitary confinement that is typical of such settings, particularly for extended periods. Virtually all researchers conclude that the harms associated with extended solitary confinement could and should be avoided. Recommendations for future research are to establish consensus definitions; collect and analyze data for prevalence estimates; distinguish effects of short-term and long-term solitary confinement; establish standards for researchers to access segregated inmate populations; and prioritize funding for reliable research. 3 tables, approximately 100 references, and appended supplementary information

Date Published: March 1, 2016