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Yale Report Tries To Count People Held In Solitary Confinement

Bebeto Matthews
A solitary confinement cell at New York City's Rikers Island jail.

A cell the size of a parking space is where more than 60,000 prisoners nationwide are being held in solitary confinement. That’s according to a study by Yale Law School and the Association of State Correctional Administrators released Wednesday. And there could be more people who were not counted because states like Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont couldn’t provide data.

This is one of the first national surveys to see who is put into solitary, how long, and why because each state has its own system for collecting data on prisoners.

Judith Resnik, an author on the study and a professor at Yale Law, says she wants to work with states to find out what kind of data they need to reduce the use of solitary confinement.

“We hope this report will help the states that are not yet collecting information to collect more information and to make it accessible digitally so that people can understand it, so that they, the states themselves, can understand who they’ve got and why they’re there.”

Resnik says the Association of Correctional Administrators, who runs the prisons, say solitary confinement is expensive, dangerous to the mental health of prisoners and dangerous for corrections officers who deal with people held in isolation.

In Connecticut, 128 people, or less than 1 percent, of the prison population is held in solitary. New York State has more than 4,000 people, or 9 percent of prisoners, held there. Maine correctional facilities did not respond to the request for data. Vermont and Rhode Island provided some data, but were limited by old record keeping systems for prisoners.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative, eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Cassandra Basler, a former senior editor at WSHU, came to the station by way of Columbia Journalism School in New York City. When she's not reporting on wealth and poverty, she's writing about food and family.