Reforming Restrictive Housing: The 2018 ASCA-Liman Nationwide Survey of Time-in-Cell is the fourth in a series of research projects co-authored by the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and the Arthur Liman Center at Yale Law School. These monographs provide a unique, longitudinal, nationwide database. The topic is “restrictive housing,” often termed “solitary confinement,” and defined as separating prisoners from the general population and holding them in cells for an average of 22 hours or more per day for 15 continuous days or more.
The 2018 monograph is based on survey responses from 43 prison systems that held 80.6% of the U.S. prison population. They reported that 49,197 individuals—4.5% of the people in their custody—were in restrictive housing. Extrapolating, we estimate that some 61,000 individuals were in isolation in U.S. prisons. This number does not include people in most jails or juvenile, military, or immigration facilities.
Two areas of special concern are the impact of mental illness and the length of time individuals spend in restrictive housing. Correctional systems use a variety of definitions for serious mental illness. Using their own descriptions, jurisdictions counted more than 4,000 prisoners identified as seriously mentally ill and in restrictive housing. Within the 36 jurisdictions that reported on the length of time people had been in segregation, most people were held for a year or less. Twenty-five jurisdictions counted more than 3,500 individuals held more than three years.
Reforming Restrictive Housing details policy changes tracking the impact of the 2016 American Correctional Association’s (ACA) Restrictive Housing Performance Based Standards. The ACA Standards call for limiting the use of isolation for pregnant women, juveniles, and seriously mentally ill individuals.
This monograph also compares the responses of the 40 prison systems that answered the ASCA-Liman surveys in both 2015 and 2017. See ASCA-Liman, Aiming to Reduce Time-in-Cell (Nov. 2016), SSRN No. 2874492. The number in restrictive housing was reported to have decreased from 56,000 in 2015 to 47,000 in 2017. Looking at specific states, in more than two dozen systems, the numbers in segregation decreased. In 11 systems, the numbers went up.
A related monograph, Working to Limit Restrictive Housing: Efforts in Four Jurisdictions to Make Changes, details the work of four correctional administrations to limit—and in one state abolish—holding people in cells 22 hours a day for 15 days or more.
Judith Resnik, Anna VanCleave, Kristen Bell, Alexandra Harrington, Gregory Conyers, Catherine McCarthy, Jenny Tumas & Annie Wang,
Reforming Restrictive Housing: The 2018 ASCA-Liman Nationwide Survey of Time-in-Cell,
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.buffalo.edu/other_scholarship/49