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Lifetime Lockdown: How Isolation Conditions Impact Prisoner Reentry

NCJ Number
Matthew Lowen; Caroline Isaacs
Date Published
August 2012
44 pages
This study examined the effect that prison isolation conditions in Arizona supermax prisons have on the ability of inmates to successfully reenter the community.
Key findings on the effect of prison isolation on prisoner reentry include the following: lengthy or repeated solitary confinement reduces former prisoners' prospects for successful reentry and contributes to Arizona's high recidivism rate; the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) does not adequately prepare prisoners who have been held in supermax during their incarceration for reentry to the community; prison policies limiting visitation and prohibiting participation in education, treatment, and employment have a negative impact on these prisoners' reentry prospects; and many of these prisoners do not receive adequate reentry assistance and social service agencies are unaware of and unprepared to assist this population. Using data obtained from interviews with 41 men and 3 women who were released from Arizona prisons in 2008 and 2009, this study explored the effect that prison isolation and solitary confinement have on the ability of prisoners to successfully reenter the community and avoid recidivism. The study focused primarily on the effect that these conditions have on a prisoner's cognitive, emotional, social and behavioral functioning, and therefore on their ability to successfully reenter society. The report describes the conditions of solitary confinement - isolation in small cells for 23-24 hours per day with not activities with other inmates, often for years at a time, and the effect that these conditions have on an individual's mental and physical well-being. The findings from the study indicate that the prison isolation conditions employed by Arizona prisons contribute to the high levels of prisoner recidivism in the State. Recommendations for improving prisoners' reentry efforts are discussed in the report. 1 table