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Study Raises Questions About Psychological Effects of Solitary Confinement

NCJ Number
NIJ Journal Issue: 269 Dated: March 2012 Pages: 4-7
Date Published
March 2012
4 pages
Publication Series
This study examined the effects of administrative segregation, also known as solitary confinement, on the mental health of inmates in Colorado prisons.
This study tested three hypotheses regarding the effects of administrative segregation (AS) on the mental health of inmates: 1) offenders would develop an array of symptoms consistent with "security housing syndrome;" 2) while all offenders' mental health would worsen over time, the mental health of mentally ill inmates would decline more rapidly and those inmates would suffer from more serious illnesses; and 3) inmates subjected to AS would experience greater psychological decline over time compared to inmates in the general prison population. The study found that none of the three hypotheses were proven, and that the opposite actually occurred: in all three groups of inmates studied, researchers measured initial improvements in psychological well-being, with most of the improvement occurring between the first and second testing period. This study evaluated the effects AS on the mental health of sample of inmates (n=247) in the Colorado prison system. The sample was divided into three groups: those in AS at the Colorado State Penitentiary, those from the general prison population, and those from San Carlos Correctional Facility, a psychiatric care prison. The inmates in AS were subdivided into two groups: those with mental illness and those without mental illness. The inmates completed questionnaires at 3-month intervals over the course of the study. Analysis of the questionnaires found that for some inmates (20 percent), AS improved their psychological well-being, while for others (7 percent), their condition worsened. The findings from this study are consistent with those of previous research which has produced mixed results on the effects of AS on the mental health of inmates. Study limitations that might have had an effect on the study's outcomes are discussed. Notes

Date Published: March 1, 2012