Seeing Solitary

As of one day in July of 2021, more than

41,000 people

were held in solitary confinement cells in prisons in the United States for 22 hours or more a day, for 15 or more continuous days.

Many have spent weeks, months, or years in these conditions.

Seeing Solitary draws from a decade of data providing the numbers, duration, and demographic information as reported by prison systems around the country.

What length of solitary confinement did we study?

Solitary confinement means being locked alone inside a cell for hours on end. Relying on the 2015 UN Nelson Mandela rules, this research asked about people separated from the general prison population and isolated in cell for

0+

HOURS PER DAY

Illustration of a clock.

0+

CONTINUOUS DAYS

Many more people are in forms of isolation that fall outside the scope of the information reported here.

What conditions do people face in solitary confinement?

Photo of the interior of a small solitary confinement cell containing a toilet, sink and small bed on the floor.

People in solitary confinement spend virtually all of their time with no social contact in a cell that contains a cot and toilet.

In some jurisdictions, people receive their meals through a slot in the door of the cell.

Some cells have no windows, and some are lit around-the-clock. Solitary confinement can be eerily silent or unnervingly loud.

A typical solitary cell is smaller than the size of a parking space.

An illustration of a parking space viewed from overhead, with a silhouette of a human being superimposed within the parking space to show scale.

"Solitary confinement is used as a punishment for the specific purpose of breaking a prisoner. Nothing relieved the pressure of being locked in a cell 23 hours a day. In 1982, after 10 years, I still had to fight an unconscious urge to get up, open the door, and walk out."

Albert Woodfox, Author of the 2019 memoir, Solitary, spent 43 years in solitary confinement. He was released from prison in 2016 and died in August of 2022.

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How many people in July of 2021 were reported to be held for one year or more?

Of the 25,029 people in 34 jurisdictions for whom data was provided:

A graphic using silhouettes of people to illustrate the numbers of people held in solitary confinement for longer than 1 year.A graphic using silhouettes of people to illustrate the numbers of people held in solitary confinement for longer than 1 year.A graphic using silhouettes of people to illustrate the numbers of people held in solitary confinement for longer than 1 year.
1 in 4 people in solitary had been held for
1 year
1 in 10 people in solitary had been held for
3 years
1 in 25 people in solitary had been held for
10 years

Who was reported to be in solitary confinement in 2021?

This data comes from reports from 33 jurisdictions that provided data in 2021.

Black men

% IN GENERAL POPULATION

0%

% OF PEOPLE IN SOLITARY

0%

Black women

% IN GENERAL POPULATION

0%

% OF PEOPLE IN SOLITARY

0%

Hispanic or Latino men

% IN GENERAL POPULATION

0%

% OF PEOPLE IN SOLITARY

0%

To learn more about the intersections of race, gender, and ethnicity in solitary, scroll to the end to explore our data

How widespread is solitary confinement? And where is it ending?

yellow hexagon

USED SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN JULY 2021

white hexagon

10 OR FEWER PEOPLE IN SOLITARY

10 OR FEWER IN SOLITARY IN WOMEN'S PRISONS

We estimate that

0-0

people were held in solitary in 2021.

Compare to these city populations.
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Burlington, VT

0

Charlottesville, VA

0

Olympia, WA

0

Cleveland Heights, OH

Learn more about the practice of solitary confinement across the country with our interactive dashboards: