Study Links Solitary Confinement to Increased Risk of Death After Release

The report found that the more time people spent in restrictive housing as a percentage of their total incarceration, the greater their risk of death in the first year after their release.

The report found that the more time people spent in restrictive housing as a percentage of their total incarceration, the greater their risk of death in the first year after their release. Those who had been in solitary confinement two or more times during their incarceration were 41 percent and 74 percent more likely to die of homicide and suicide, respectively, as compared to those who had been held once in restrictive housing.

In recent years, advocates, legislators, and law enforcement officials have examined the practice of solitary confinement with greater scrutiny. In 2010, the American Bar Association advocated for the need to end the prolonged use of restrictive housing, and in 2016 the Department of Justice and the American Correctional Association published recommendations that would limit the use of restrictive housing in prisons, especially when someone does not present a grave safety risk.

Although some evidence shows that prison systems have begun to rely less on restrictive housing, progress has been halting. An October report from the New York Civil Liberties Union found that more people incarcerated in New York State prisons were placed in solitary confinement in 2018 than in previous years, despite a 2015 settlement with the state to reduce the use of the practice.

These findings contribute to a growing body of research about the effects of restrictive housing on incarcerated people. Even though research has established an association between incarceration and not only instability but also mortality upon reentry, the role that restrictive housing plays in mortality post-release requires more inquiry. The JAMA study is a sobering reminder of the adverse effects of solitary confinement and its lingering consequences for people upon release.