The Use of Solitary Confinement Increases Risk of Inmate Self-Harm

A recent study of New York city jails and prisons has brought to light a frightening statistic. While solitary confinement is intended to keep a prisoner from hurting themselves or someone else, these studies have shown that it is counter-productive.

In the recent issue published by the American Journal of Public Health, a study reveals that inmates who are punished through solitary confinement are nearly seven times more likely to injure themselves, or commit suicide than inmates who are not subjected to situations of isolation.

The study took place over a period of three years and was led by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The medical records of almost a quarter of a million inmates were evaluated. In the records, it was found that there were 2,182 incidents of self-harm related to solitary confinement. Seven of the reported cases were suicides.

What is even more troublesome is that out of the acts of self-inflicted injuries 53% of these cases occurred in a jail. Of this number 45% of these injuries were potentially fatal and occurred in inmates who were in isolation at the time. The majority of these inmates were found to have severe mental disorders, which was most likely what caused the behavior that landed them in isolation to begin with.

Because of the results of this study, the New York City Department of Health and Human Hygiene is outlining clinical management guidelines for jails and prisons to follow. These guidelines will hopefully reduce the incidence of solitary confinement and in turn, reduce the related incidence of self-harm and suicide. They are also making a recommendation to the state legislature to limit the use of isolation to specific types of behavior and find alternative consequences for inmates who are known to be mentally ill, or have a history of self-harm.