A new report by Yale Law School, the number of prisoners subjected to “restrictive housing”, as solitary is officially known, stood at between 41,000 and 48,000 in the summer of 2021. They were being held alone in cells the size of parking spaces, for 22 hours a day on average and for at least 15 days.
This is in breach of minimum standards laid down by the United Nations which considers such isolation a form of torture.
More than 6,000 prisoners have been held in isolation for over a year. They include almost a thousand people who have been held on their own in potentially damaging confined spaces for a decade or longer.
The new solitary study, Time-In-Cell: A 2021 Snapshot of Restrictive Housing, extrapolates its findings from the reported figures of 34 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Studies have shown that even short periods of solitary can bring on severe mental health problems including depression, aggression and suicidal thoughts. Its destructive harm was highlighted by the death earlier this month of Albert Woodfox who, before his release from Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison in 2016, was the longest-standing solitary confinement inmate in the country. He was cooped up for 43 years almost without break in a 6ft by 9ft cell. In his 2019 book Solitary, Woodfox described the impact of decades of isolation on him. He had regular terrifying bouts of claustrophobia which forced him to sleep sitting up to avoid the sensation of the walls closing in on him.