Hear from experts on why solitary does not make us safer and learn about evidence-based alternatives to solitary confinement.

Solitary Confinement is Torture

DC jails’ use of solitary confinement violates the United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for Prisoners. The UN defines solitary confinement for longer than 15 days, 22 hours a day, as torture. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the DOC confined 1,500 people in their cells for almost 500 days. 


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PBS Frontline tells the history of the United States’ criminal justice system and shows how the U.S. became a world leader in solitary confinement and mass incarceration. 

History of Solitary Confinement in the United States

The United States began using solitary confinement in the late 1700s. Early in its use, solitary confinement proved to be harmful and could even lead to death. Until the late twentieth century, the use of solitary confinement was rare. But, beginning in the 1970s, solitary confinement increased with mass incarceration. By the early 2000s, solitary confinement was a routine practice in U.S. prisons and jails.


Solitary: A Virtual Experience

The national Unlock the Box campaign to end solitary confinement collaborated with The Guardian, Solitary Watch, and survivors of solitary confinement to create the “6×9: A Virtual Reality Experience.” 

A mobile app allows you to experience ”6×9” on your own, with or without a VR viewer. If you don’t have a smartphone, scroll down to watch the 360° video.

Download the app for the full virtual experience:

Facts about solitary

  • Neuroscientists have found that long-term isolation causes permanent damage to the brain. Social and sensory deprivation can cause memory loss and depression, and can impair cognition. Studies show that solitary confinement shrinks the part of the brain that helps store memories. Sensory deprivation and natural light deprivation can also cause psychosis and other harm. 
  • Thirty-three percent of people in solitary confinement for 15 days become psychotic and/or suicidal. Solitary increases the likelihood of self-harm. Common symptoms of solitary confinement include panic attacks, paranoia, and sensitivity to sound.  
  • Being confined in solitary increases the likelihood of rearrest for a crime within the first three years by 35 percent.
  • Solitary confinement survivors struggle to take part in social situations, particularly in job settings. This struggle is because, in solitary, there is no meaningful interaction with people, and their environment does not change. 
  • Solitary confinement is even more harmful to young people under 25 years old because their brains are still developing. 
  • The psychological stress can inhibit parts of the brain from growing, causing irreversible harm. 
  • Kids restricted from social interactions and education programs have trouble adjusting to life after release. They are more likely to harm themselves or commit suicide. 
  • The DOC places people experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal ideations in isolated safe cells. 
  • Solitary confinement creates barriers to physical and mental healthcare. Clinicians often perform clinical assessments through bars or solid metal doors. Clinicians in the DOC assess people in this way when held in so-called “safe cells.”
  • Solitary confinement causes long-term mental and physical harm, which lasts even after release.
  • People who spend any time in solitary confinement have an increased risk of dying from opioid overdose, cardiovascular disease, homicide, or suicide.
  • People with more than one stay in solitary confinement are 129 percent more likely to commit suicide than those who have never spent time in solitary.
  • People can lose their sense of self, become unable to connect to reality, or have difficulty controlling their behavior.