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Entombed: Isolation in the US Federal Prison System

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2014
54 pages

This report challenges the practice of the physical and social isolation of inmates in the Federal Government's one super-maximum security prison in Colorado known as Administrative Maximum (ADX).


ADX has a capacity for 490 male inmates. The vast majority of ADX inmates are confined to solitary cells for 22-24 hours a day in conditions of severe physical and social isolation. The cells have solid walls that prevent prisoners from seeing or having any direct contact with those in adjacent cells. Most cells have an interior barred door and a solid outer door, which reinforces the inmate's sense of isolation. Prisoners eat all meals inside their cells. Most cells contain a shower and a toilet. Routine checks by medical and mental health staff occur at the cell door, and medical and psychiatric consultations are sometimes conducted via television conferencing. Advocates for this type of imprisonment claim that ADX is only used for prisoners who have proven to be a significant risk to other inmates and to prison staff. They reject the view that that the inmates' solitary confinement is abusive, noting that the restrictive regime is humane, since the cells have windows, TVs with multiple channels, and access to in-cell educational and other programs. ADX also has a Step Down Program that enables inmates to earn their way to a less restrictive setting and ultimately to another, less restrictive facility. Amnesty International, however, believes that the conditions at ADX are unacceptably harsh, and in-cell programs cannot compensate for the lack of meaningful social interaction and outdoor exercise. Amnesty International favors restricting the use of solitary confinement to exceptional circumstances and for the shortest possible time period. Specific recommendations are directed to the Federal Government and the U.S. Congress. 109 notes