I sense that we have known for many decades about the profound harms that solitary confinement can created for mental and physical health, and yet there are still tens of thousands of persons subject to this extreme form of imprisonment. And thanks to this new Prison Policy Initiative piece, titled “New data: Solitary confinement increases risk of premature death after release,” I learned of new research documenting how time spent in solitary confinement increases the risk of deaths by suicide, homicide, and opioid overdose. This research was published in a medical journal late last year under the title “Association of Restrictive Housing During Incarceration With Mortality After Release.” Here is part of a summary of the research by Andrea Fenster of PPI :
A recently published study of people released from North Carolina prisons confirms what many have long suspected: solitary confinement increases the risk of premature death, even after release. Personal stories, like those of Kalief Browder’s isolation and subsequent suicide, are canaries in the coal mine. Underneath seemingly isolated events, researchers now find that solitary confinement is linked to more deaths after release from prison. These preventable deaths aren’t outliers; in the U.S., where the use of solitary confinement is widespread, an estimated 80,000 people are held in some form of isolation on any given day, and in a single year, over 10,000 people were released to the community directly from solitary.
The new study shows that the effects of solitary confinement go well beyond the immediate psychological consequences identified by previous research, like anxiety, depression, and hallucinations. The authors, from the University of North Carolina, Emory University, and the North Carolina Departments of Public Safety and Public Health, find that any amount of time spent in solitary confinement increases the risk of death in the first year after individuals return to the community, including deaths by suicide, homicide, and opioid overdose….
The study identifies two additional factors correlated with a heightened risk of death after release: race and the amount (length and frequency) of solitary confinement. All incarcerated people of color are more likely to die within a year of release, and the experience of solitary confinement only amplifies this racial disparity. A previous study found that, compared to their share of the total prison population, Black men and women are overrepresented in solitary confinement, exposing them disproportionately to its harms. And unsurprisingly, more frequent placements in solitary confinement — as well as longer stays — are associated with worse outcomes across both white and nonwhite populations.