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Solitary Confinement

Solitary Confinement

Buried alive prisoner artwork
Photo: AFSC

Solitary confinement is a form of imprisonment made up of long periods of isolation, with little or no human contact, often including lights on, or off, for 24 hours per day, deliberately loud sounds, extreme hot or cold, menacing dogs and other egregious violations of human rights.

We find the use of solitary confinement to be:

  • Pervasive – far overused and racially disparate
  • Illegal – a form of torture recognized and prohibited under international law
  • Harmful – to the mental health of those with and without pre-existing mental conditions

AFSC is concerned about the use of solitary confinement in the U.S and wants to see it abolished. Below are resources that explain the problems with solitary confinement and highlight our work.


The Lessons of Marion

In 1985, AFSC issued this report in response to the nationally publicized lockdown of the federal penitentiary near Marion, Ill., following the murder of two corrections officers by prisoners. 

Buried alive prisoner artwork
Buried alive: Solitary confinement in Arizona’s prisons and jails

A 2007 report by AFSC staff Matthew Lowen and Caroline Isaacs on the use of long-term solitary confinement in various correctional facilities in Arizona. 


Cover of "The Prison Inside the Prison" report
The prison inside the prison

Isolation and lockdown (confining prisoners to their cells for 23 to 24 hours a day) have traditionally been used as temporary measures, to punish individual prisoners or control the prison environment. Written in 2003, "The prison inside the prison" looks at the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

survivor's manual cover page , outline of a man crouched with head down
Survivors manual: How to survive in solitary confinement

Through letters, poetry, and practical advice on surviving the miseries of solitary confinement, this book offers tips on mental, physical, and spiritual survival. Written by and for people living in control units, it was originally published in 1998. This fifth edition was released in 2012.

Torture in U.S. prisons

This 2011 report presents prisoners’ testimonies of torture and abuse alongside related international human rights agreements.

inalienable rights cover page
Inalienable rights: Applying human rights standards to the U.S. justice system

U.N. treaties, conventions, and declarations provide basic guidelines for the treatment of prisoners. However, AFSC continually receives testimonies from people in U.S. prisons that demonstrate those guidelines are routinely ignored by the criminal justice system. This 2009 report is meant to help illuminate—and eliminate—this double standard.

Private Prisons: The Public's Problem
Private prisons: The public's problem

Arizona has enthusiastically embraced prison privatization, with 13 percent of the state prison population housed in private facilities. This report looks at the performance and cost of private prisons.