Solitary confinement
Solitary confinement is a special form of imprisonment in which a prisoner
A prisoner is someone incarcerated in a prison, jail or similar facility.Prisoner or The Prisoner may also refer to:* Prisoner of war, a soldier in wartime, held as by an enemy* Political prisoner, someone held in prison for their ideology...

 is isolated from any human contact, though often with the exception of members of prison staff. It is sometimes employed as a form of punishment beyond incarceration for a prisoner, and has been cited as an additional measure of protection from the criminal or is given for violations of prison regulations. It is also used as a form of protective custody
Protective custody
Protective custody is a type of imprisonment to protect a prisoner from harm, either from outside sources or other prisoners. Many administrators believe the level of violence, or the underlying threat of violence within prisoners, is a chief factor causing the need for PC units...

 and to implement a suicide watch
Suicide watch
Suicide watch is an intensive monitoring process used to ensure that an individual does not die by suicide. Usually the term is used in reference to inmates in a prison, hospital, psychiatric hospital, or military bases...


Solitary confinement is colloquially referred to in American English
American English
American English is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two-thirds of the world's native speakers of English live in the United States....

 as the 'hotbox', the 'hole', 'lockdown', 'AdSeg' (Administrative Segregation), the 'SHU' —an acronym for security housing unit, or the 'pound'; and in British English
British English
British English, or English , is the broad term used to distinguish the forms of the English language used in the United Kingdom from forms used elsewhere...

 as the 'block' or the 'cooler'.
In Canada they are known as a Special Handling Unit
Special Handling Unit
The Special Handling Unit is Canada's highest security prison. It is co-located with the Ste-Anne-des-Plaines Institution and the Regional Reception Centre, at the Correctional Service of Canada complex at Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec . As of 2008, there were 90 prisoners at the SHU...



The practice is used when a prisoner is considered dangerous to oneself or to others, is suspected of organizing or being engaged in illegal activities outside of the prison, or, in the case of a prisoner such as a pedophile
As a medical diagnosis, pedophilia is defined as a psychiatric disorder in adults or late adolescents typically characterized by a primary or exclusive sexual interest in prepubescent children...

 or witness, is at a high risk of being harmed by another inmate. The latter example is a form of protective custody. Solitary confinement is also the norm in supermax prisons
Supermax is the name used to describe "control-unit" prisons, or units within prisons, which represent the most secure levels of custody in the prison systems of certain countries...

 where prisoners are deemed dangerous or high risk are held.

Solitary Confinement in the United States

In the US Federal Prison system
Federal Bureau of Prisons
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is a federal law enforcement agency subdivision of the United States Department of Justice and is responsible for the administration of the federal prison system. The system also handles prisoners who committed acts considered felonies under the District of Columbia's...

, solitary confinement is known as the Special Housing Unit (SHU), pronounced ˈ. California's prison system also uses the abbreviation SHU, but it stands for Security Housing Units. In other states, it is known as the Special Management Unit (SMU).

Current estimates of the number of inmates held in solitary confinement are difficult to determine, though generally the minimum held at any given time has been determined to be 20,000.


It is considered by critics to be a form of psychological torture
Psychological torture
Psychological torture is a type of torture that relies primarily on psychological effects, and only secondarily on any physical harm inflicted. Although not all psychological torture involves the use of physical violence, there is a continuum between psychological torture and physical torture...

 when the period of confinement is longer than a few weeks or is continued indefinitely.

Opponents of solitary confinement hold that it is a form of cruel and unusual punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment
Cruel and unusual punishment is a phrase describing criminal punishment which is considered unacceptable due to the suffering or humiliation it inflicts on the condemned person...

 and torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

 because the lack of human contact, and the sensory deprivation
Sensory deprivation
Sensory deprivation or perceptual isolation is the deliberate reduction or removal of stimuli from one or more of the senses. Simple devices such as blindfolds or hoods and earmuffs can cut off sight and hearing respectively, while more complex devices can also cut off the sense of smell, touch,...

 that often go with solitary confinement, can have a severe negative impact on a prisoner's mental state that may lead to certain mental illness
Mental illness
A mental disorder or mental illness is a psychological or behavioral pattern generally associated with subjective distress or disability that occurs in an individual, and which is not a part of normal development or culture. Such a disorder may consist of a combination of affective, behavioural,...

es such as depression, permanent or semi-permanent changes to brain physiology, an existential crisis
Existential crisis
An existential crisis is a stage of development at which an individual questions the very foundations of his or her life: whether his or her life has any meaning, purpose or value...

, and death.

Negative psychological effects have been documented, leading one judge in a 2001 suit to rule that “[Solitary confinement] units are virtual incubators of psychoses—seeding illness in otherwise healthy inmates and exacerbating illness in those already suffering from mental infirmities.”

In 2006, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America, chaired by John Joseph Gibbons
John Joseph Gibbons
John Joseph Gibbons is a former federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and is currently a partner at the law firm of Gibbons P.C.-Early career:...

 and Nicholas Katzenbach
Nicholas Katzenbach
Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach is an American lawyer who served as United States Attorney General during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration.-Early life:...

 found that: "The increasing use of high-security segregation is counter-productive, often causing violence inside facilities and contributing to recidivism after release."

Solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for prisoners in Europe was largely reduced or eliminated during the twentieth century. In 2004, only 40 out of 75,000 inmates held in England and Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 were placed in solitary confinement cells.

See also

  • Single-celling
    Single-celling is the practice of assigning only one inmate to each cell in a prison. John Howard has been credited as establishing the practice of single-celling in the United Kingdom and, by extension, in the United States...

  • The Box
    The Box (torture)
    The box, also known as a hot box or sweatbox, is a method of solitary confinement used in humid and arid regions as a method of punishment. Anyone placed in one would experience extreme heat, dehydration, heat exhaustion, even death, depending on when and how long one was kept in one...

     (form of torture involving solitary confinement in an overheated room)

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.