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Psychological Effects of Solitary Confinement

NCJ Number
Philip Bulman
Date Published
June 2012
2 pages

This article from the June/July 2012 issue of Corrections Today examines the psychological effects of solitary confinement.


In the field of criminal justice, solitary confinement is known as administrative segregation (AS). This article presents the results of a study that examined the psychological effects of solitary confinement on inmates. The study tested three hypotheses - 1) offenders in AS would develop an array of psychological symptoms consistent with security housing unit syndrome; 2) the mental health of offenders with and without mental illness would worsen over time in AS with inmates with a mental illness declining more rapidly; and 3) inmates in AS would experience greater psychological decline over time compared to the general prison population and those in the psychiatric care prison. The study's findings did not support any of the three hypotheses, but instead showed initial improvements in psychological well-being for all three groups of inmates in the study with 20 percent of the study sample showing improved mental health over the study period and 7 percent showing decreased mental health during the same time frame. Data for this study were obtained from an assessment of 247 men in the Colorado prison system who were divided into 3 groups: inmates in AS at the Colorado State Penitentiary, the general prison population, and residents of the San Carlos Correctional Facility, a psychiatric care prison. Due to study limitations, the researchers note that the study's findings cannot be applied to other prison systems. 5 endnotes