Time-in-Cell: A 2021 Snapshot of Restrictive Housing Based on a Nationwide Survey of U.S. Prison Systems

307 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2022

See all articles by Judith Resnik

Judith Resnik

Yale University - Law School

Skylar Albertson

Independent

Grace Y. Li

Yale Law School; NYU Law; Princeton University

Jennifer Taylor

Yale Law School

Date Written: August 24, 2022

Abstract

This study, Time-In-Cell: A 2021 Snapshot of Restrictive Housing, analyses data from prison systems around the country and is part of a series of reports by the Correctional Leaders Association (CLA) and the Arthur Liman Center at Yale Law School, which have worked for a decade together to generate the only longitudinal, nation-wide database documenting the reported use of solitary confinement in prisons in the United States. This 2022 publication finds that prison systems report that fewer people are held in solitary confinement – defined as 22 hours or more on average a day for fifteen days or more – than in the past. This Report estimates that, as of July 2021, between 41,000 to 48,000 people were held in isolation in a U.S. prison cell for an average of 22 hours a day, for 15 days or more.

Moreover, three states reported holding no one in that form of isolation in July 2021; two other states reported fewer than ten people in solitary; and ten states reported not using solitary in any of their women’s prisons. In contrast, as documented in the study published in 2014, every jurisdiction reported using solitary confinement, and an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people were in solitary confinement in prisons throughout the United States.

This research intersects with efforts around the country—spearheaded by people in confinement, by communities, by many organizations including of correctional leaders, and by legislators—to limit or end the use of isolation in prison. National campaigns (“Unlock the Box,” “Stop Solitary”) have brought attention to the harms, as has the recent death of Albert Woodfox, author of Solitary, who spent more than forty years in isolation at Louisiana’s Angola prison before he was released in 2016.

Change is being driven by many factors, including that many corrections agencies have revised their policies to put fewer people into isolation. Moreover, between 2018 and 2020, legislators in some twenty-five states introduced bills to limit the use of restrictive housing, and some fifteen enacted legislation. Since 2020, bills have been introduced in some thirty state legislatures. In 2021, seven states enacted legislation aiming to curb the use of solitary confinement, and a few courts have held that specific forms of isolation are unlawful. Declining prison populations is another factor, as the rise of the use of solitary confinement in the 1980s and thereafter came with the increasing numbers of people held in prison.

Time-in-Cell also examined the demographics of people held in isolation, including its continued use for people whom their own jurisdiction defines as having “serious mental illness.” Moreover, the number of Black women held in solitary was higher than the number of white women.

The full report is posted here as well as on the web; prior reports can be found on websites, including of the Liman Center at http://law.yale.edu/liman/solitary, and can be downloaded free of charge.

Keywords: prisons, corrections, correctional administration, correctional management, penology, solitary confinement, restrictive housing, administrative segregation, disciplinary segregation

Suggested Citation

Resnik, Judith and Albertson, Skylar and Li, Grace and Taylor, Jennifer, Time-in-Cell: A 2021 Snapshot of Restrictive Housing Based on a Nationwide Survey of U.S. Prison Systems (August 24, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4206981 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4206981

Judith Resnik (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-1447 (Phone)
203-432-1719 (Fax)

Skylar Albertson

Independent ( email )

Grace Li

Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06510
United States

NYU Law ( email )

Princeton University ( email )

United States

Jennifer Taylor

Yale Law School

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