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The Effect of Solitary Confinement on Post-prison Mortality

Sat, August 11, 4:30 to 6:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Floor: Level 100, 104B


Dramatic growth of the prison population in the United States over the last four decades accompanies significant qualitative transformations in the conditions of imprisonment. Prisons have become focused less on rehabilitation and more on punishment and containment. The startling, expanded use of solitary confinement exemplifies this trend toward more punitive penal practices. As one of the harshest forms of state control, solitary confinement isolates inmates in small, single cells and places severe limitations on their mental, physical, and social stimulation for days, months, or even years. Exposure to prison environments has increasingly been shown to be damaging to health and mortality, especially in the periods following release from prison. Yet, how solitary confinement impacts the risks of mortality after release requires more investigation. This study leverages administrative data on prisoners in the state of Michigan matched to death records from the National Death Index (NDI) to estimate the effect of exposure to solitary confinement on post-prison mortality. Preliminary results from duration models indicate that among prisoners, the experience of solitary confinement is associated with elevated risk of mortality – and, the greater the exposure, whether in terms of time spent in solitary or frequency of spells, the greater the risk. These results provide tentative evidence that the experience of solitary confinement, both short- and long-term stays, is potentially deadly with regard to individual mortality. Prison confinement conditions, such as extreme social isolation and deprivation, have important implications for prisoner reentry and well-being.


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