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Conditions of Confinement in Restrictive Housing

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 2016
32 pages

This chapter is from a comprehensive review of emerging issues and concerns related to restrictive housing (also known as solitary confinement or segregated housing) in U.S. prisons focuses on the conceptual and empirical challenges in analyzing and addressing its uses, over-uses, and effects on inmates exposed to it. 


The authors - who are leading experts from various disciplines, including criminology, psychology, sociology, and law - use different, sometimes contradictory, terms to define and discuss restrictive housing. As a whole, the 10 chapters present an innovative perspective for guiding future research in this area and ensuring that any reform efforts have a strong scientific foundation. Individually, the chapters provide an in-depth review of the features and effects of restrictive housing. Following the introductory chapter, a chapter presents a historical overview of the uses and effects of restrictive housing. It reviews the variations in the policies, practices, and terminology associated with restrictive housing across jurisdictions, which increases the difficulty in comparing and monitoring the use and impact of this inmate management strategy. It notes how the increased use of solitary confinement, compared to more general inmate segregation, has drawn the greatest legal and ethical concerns about the practice, particularly as it involves youth, gang members, and the mentally ill. The second chapter addresses two integral elements of administrative segregation: its use and function within correctional institutions. Other chapters discuss confinement conditions in restrictive housing; how it is used to limit the influence of gangs in prisons; the link between inmate misconduct, institutional violence, and restrictive housing; the mental health effects of restrictive housing; research gaps in understanding the effects on inmates and the prison environment of prolonged periods of restrictive housing; the effects of administrative segregation on prison order and culture; what works in restrictive housing; and associated legal issues. Chapter notes

Date Published: November 1, 2016