The United States has been using segregation as a corrections management tool for over 200 years. Inmates are separated from the mainstream population for many reasons, including misbehaviors or for the protection of themselves or others. About one in five inmates spends time in segregation over the course of a year.
The negative effects of segregation can be severe. Segregated inmates are at increased risk for depression, paranoia, psychosis, self-harm, and suicide. Long-term effects can include personality changes, memory problems, confusion, depression, and phobias—all of which can make reintegration more difficult, especially in the case of preexisting psychological or physical health conditions.
Segregation is a problem that affects many people. Corrections staff face stressors created by managing isolated inmates, while law enforcement officers must deal with individuals released directly from segregation into the community, a practice that is still routine in many states. Released inmates, ill-prepared to handle a wide range of choices and social interactions, can pose a serious risk to themselves, their families, and their communities.
High rates of recidivism among formerly segregated inmates reflect the failure of this systemic practice, which has been increasingly criticized by politicians, researchers, human rights activists, and prison directors. Segregation does not need to be the default corrections management strategy. Corrections agencies across the United States are exploring innovative strategies and viable alternatives that may eventually make most referrals unnecessary in the first place.
The segregation of certain inmates from the rest of a facility’s population goes by many names. These terms describe both characteristics of segregation (degree of isolation, hours, duration, privileges, etc.) and its purpose (administrative, disciplinary, and protective custody). Here are some commonly used terms:
- segregated housing
- restricted housing
- administrative close supervision
- maximum-control housing
- supermaximum custody
- secure housing
- special housing
- administrative segregation
- disciplinary segregation
- protective custody
- solitary confinement