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The Inside:

Fifteen Days

to  Social Death

A Collaboration between Unis Human Rights Project & Proof: Media for Social Justice

On any given day, the U.S. holds at least 80,000 people in solitary confinement. Sometimes referred to as the SHU (solitary housing unit), a person held in solitary confinement is denied any human contact with the exception of limited contact with prison staff. They spend between 22 to 24 hours per day alone in a cell the size of a parking space and are also denied contact with the outside world, including phone calls and visits with friends or family. Prisoners can end up in solitary for violation of prison rules, but also because of their beliefs, gender, sexual orientation or age.

Federal law requires that if youth are held in adult jails, they must be kept separate from the adult inmates. Often, this means being placed in isolation, which is a form of solitary confinement for their own protection.

Prolonged solitary confinement is a form of torture according to the United Nations, and in 2011, Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture reported that states should ban the use of this practice as punishment.

The psychological effects of solitary are devastating. Even fifteen days can have permanent psychological consequences, including chronic depression, anxiety, paranoia, and insomnia. Psychologists liken these effects to “social death,” as people lose their ability to relate to others. A study conducted at a jail in New York City revealed that although less than 8% of admissions included any solitary confinement, 45% of inmates held in solitary confinement committed acts of “potentially fatal self-harm,” acts likely to result in severe injury or death.

Why Solitary Confinement is Modern Day Torture

Test your knowledge.

Chapter 11 — Question 01

On any given day, the U.S. holds between ___________ people in solitary confinement.

Correct! Wrong!

There is anywhere between 80,000 and 100,000 people held in solitary confinement on any given day in the U.S.

Chapter 11 — Question 01


Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights

These are human beings forced to live for decades in a cage, denied the ability to touch their loved ones for decades, denied the ability to communicate face to face with anyone else. It is not a real form of living. We hope that our success in this case will lead to a drastic reduction in the use of solitary confinement in California. We feel like this lawsuit and this prisoner- lead struggle is just one piece of a larger movement against solitary confinement in this country and across the world.

Continue to

Chapter Twelve

Impact on Families