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Topics in Criminal Justice: Rethinking Solitary Confinement

Defining Solitary Confinement

Touted as a vital tool by some and decried as a method of torture by others, solitary confinement is the practice of placing convicted prisoners into isolated and small prison cells, with very little to no human contact. The duration of the confinement can vary greatly; according to the American Psychological Association, while "disciplinary segregation" typically sees prisoners placed in isolation for a set and relatively short period of time, "administrative" (safety-oriented) solitary confinement can stretch out for months or years.

New York State's HALT Solitary Confinement Act

As the practice of administrative confinement has grown, concerns have sprung up around the safety, risks, and outcomes of the practice, leading to efforts to change laws in many states. One such proposal is the New York State Assembly Bill A8588, which aims to set clear limits on the duration of confinement, create alternatives to the practice that focuses on rehabilitation, and to define vulnerable population classes that cannot be placed into solitary confinement (including juveniles, pregnant women, people aged over 55, and LGBTI individuals).

Researching the Issue

While an array of opinion pieces and news media articles on the topic are available online, scholarly resources more suitable to academic research also abound. For example, searching Minerva, UAlbany's catalog for solitary confinement turned up a number of hits, including numerous congressional hearings, as well as a variety of books. Notable book examples available at Dewey include:

  • Arrigo, B. A., Bersot H. Y., & Sellers, B. G. (2011). The ethics of total confinement: A critique of madness, citizenship, and social justice. New York: Oxford University Press.
    Dewey Library / K 5077 A97 2011
  • Guenther, L. (2013). Solitary confinement: Social death and its afterlives. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.
    Dewey Library / HV 9471 G84 2013
  • Reiter, K. & Koenig, A. (Eds.). (2015). Extreme punishment: Comparative studies in detention, incarceration and solitary confinement. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
    New Dewey Title in Processing - Available Soon
  • Richards, S. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Marion Experiment: Long-term solitary confinement and the supermax movement. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
    Dewey Library / KF9730 .M37 2015
  • Shalev, S. (2009). Supermax : controlling risk through solitary confinement. Portland, OR: Willan.
    Dewey Library / HV 9469 S52X 2009

In addition to these and other books, a variety of law review and journal articles are also available in:

Need additional research assistance? Don't hesitate to get in touch with Criminal Justice Subject Librarian Cathy Dwyer! Visit during office hours weekly on Mondays, from 6-8pm, or email to set up an appointment or to get help remotely.

Blog Created By: Rebekah Jarvis-Girtler
Image Credit: Giuliana Radice

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