project overview

Many corrections systems isolate certain prisoners from the general prison population—a practice known as solitary confinement or segregation. Vera's Segregation Reduction Project (SRP) works with states and local jurisdictions to decrease the number of people they hold in segregation, provides recommendations tailored to their specific circumstances and needs, and continues to assist them while they plan and implement change.

The SRP has partnered with five states–Illinois, Maryland, Washington, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania–to address site-specific needs to:

  • Review criteria to determine who should be held in segregation and who could be moved safely to the general prison population;
  • Assess disciplinary sentences and lengths of stay in segregation;
  • Enhance programs to transition prisoners out of segregation;
  • Improve programming and conditions of confinement for those who remain;
  • Track the effects of moving prisoners from segregation back to the general prison;
  • Assess segregation policies and practices;
  • Analyze the effects of the use of segregation; and
  • Implement recommendations for enhancing responses to protective custody, disciplinary, and intensive management populations.

Building on the expertise drawn from this work, Vera developed the online Safe Alternatives to Segregation Resource Center (SASRC), which provides the latest research, implementation guides, policy briefs, and current thinking from leaders in the field. This resource allows Vera to also provide limited on-demand technical assistance to additional jurisdictions on request.

Why work to reduce correctional segregation?

Since the 1980s, prisons in the United States have increasingly relied on the use of segregation to manage difficult populations in their overcrowded systems. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of people in restricted housing units nationwide increased from 57,591 in 1995 to 81,622 in 2005. At the same time, conditions of isolation have become increasingly severe. Evidence shows that holding people in isolation with minimal human contact for days, years, or even decades is exceptionally expensive and in many cases counterproductive. Correctional systems also use segregation to sanction prisoners who have committed relatively minor violations within prison, despite evidence that long-term segregation can create or exacerbate serious mental health problems and antisocial behavior among incarcerated people, have negative outcomes for institutional safety, and increase the risk of recidivism after release.

The tide is now shifting. Vera’s Segregation Reduction Project points to a new and effective path forward, away from overreliance on this costly form of incarceration. Through this project, Vera has demonstrated that it is possible for states to save money and achieve better outcomes by significantly reducing the numbers of prisoners held in segregation without jeopardizing institutional safety, and has created a model that can be adapted for use in many other U.S. jurisdictions.

For more information about this project, contact Sara Sullivan.

Nicholas Turner Testimony on Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences, to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, February 25, 2014
Written testimony of Nicholas Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice, on the human rights, fiscal, and public safety consequences of segregation (also known as solitary confinement or restricted housing) in prisons, jails, and detention centers throughout the United States...
Michael Jacobson Testimony on Reassessing Solitary Confinement to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, June 19, 2012
Vera Institute of Justice Director Michael Jacobson submitted written testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on the occasion of its first-ever hearing on solitary confinement, in which he describes the work of Vera’s...
Prisons Within Prisons: The Use of Segregation in the United States
This article, published in the Federal Sentencing Reporter (Vol. 24, No. 1, October 2011) provides a concise overview of the history and current use of segregation (also known as solitary confinement) in the United States, including disciplinary segregation, administrative segregation, protective...
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Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections, in conjunction with the National PREA Resource Center—created under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act—has developed a new resource for correctional administrators and staff about housing at-risk...
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The New York City Department of Corrections’ (DOC) recent commitment to ending the use of solitary confinement for juveniles by the end of 2014 is an important change that recognizes the particularly harmful impact of segregation on adolescents (...
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It was gratifying to read Vera’s recent report concerning the sentencing and incarceration practices in Germany and the Netherlands—practices described as “organized around the central tenets of resocialization and rehabilitation”—as they are...
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Editor’s note: Mississippi Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Emmitt Sparkman oversees the Division of Institutions and is Superintendent of the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman). He writes in response to the article “Prisons...