Justice Department proposes changes to solitary confinement guidelines

Last year President Obama proposed that there should be changes to the procedures that land inmates in solitary confinement. Before this proposal, even low-risk offenders could be placed in solitary for various offenses or infractions. The Justice Department (or “DOJ”) just completed the review and released a report detailing the findings.


The report determines that solitary confinement is harmful on inmates. Solitary confinement, (or “restrictive housing”) although necessary for some inmates, should be used sparingly and “never as a default solution.” The DOJ compiled a list of “Guiding Principles” as best practices for the sequestering of dangerous inmates. The principles include:

  • Solitary confinement should not be used as a general form of confinement, i.e. it should always have a purpose.
  • Prison officials should be able to articulate the specific justifications supporting solitary confinement for every inmate. These reasons should justify both the (1) confinement and (2) the duration.
  • The housing should strike a balance between the health needs of the inmate and the safety requirements for the correctional officers and wider prison community.
  • There should be a plan to re-integrate inmates into the general population.
  • All correctional facilities must regularly review inmates in solitary confinement.

These guidelines, while they may result in a change in federal prisons, are not binding on the states. Most inmates, and those in restrictive housing, are held in state facilities.

Solitary confinement is a very real possibility if you are sent to prison for the right reasons and cause the right incident while inside. Solitary confinement or restrictive housing is very detrimental to your mental health; don’t think that you are different, you probably are not. Many of these cells are small and prevent you from full stretching, have no windows and do not permit you books or television. You are kept totally isolated from stimuli or human contact. It is much harder than most believe or give it credit.

If you are facing serious criminal charges, then you may want to speak to an attorney. Solitary confinement is just one of the many punishments that may await you.