Effects of Solitary Confinement on The Recidivism Rate of Juveniles


There has been initiatives and reforms as recently as the Obama administration banning the use of solitary confinement on a federal level for juveniles, but the effects of solitary confinement has already impacted thousands of juveniles in the criminal justice system (Liptak, 2016). Solitary confinement is best known as the housing of an individual with limited contact with others, while being confined to a small space during incarceration (National Commision on Correctional Health Care, 2018). Discussions and studies of solitary confinement and its effects have been a topic in the criminal justice system for many decades, more so, on an adult level than juvenile level.

Two studies by David Lovell, Clark Johnson, Kevin Cain (2007) and Daniel Mears and William Bales (2009) discuss potential relationships between solitary confinement and recidivism, but my intent is to further research the relationship between solitary confinement and recidivism rates as follows: Can solitary confinement increase the likelihood that juveniles will reoffend? We are aware that solitary confinement can cause psychological trauma to inmates, but there should be further research into whether or not solitary confinement has a direct effect on juveniles who re-offend and the long term psychological effects.

Throughout history, many believed solitary confinement would be the best disciplinary method in controlling the disruption of inmates and reduce recidivism rates (Smith, 2006). In particular, officers and administrators that are outnumbered and underpaid in the facilities, believe the use of solitary confinement is the only disciplinary tool available to them without the adequate mental health resources or alternative discipline options (Smith, 2006).

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Due to the severe conditions of solitary confinement, in my proposed research, I predict it will be quite difficult for a juvenile to be confined to these conditions for a long period of time and not be mentally scarred by this treatment. To ask them to then rapidly adapt to the conditions of the “real world” upon release from jail, without any mental evaluation to determine how this method of discipline has affected them psychologically is very negligent and a disservice to society. Lack of proper resources and trauma from solitary confinement will ultimately cause a juvenile to reoffend at a higher rate than a juvenile serving time in general population.

Solitary Confinement

Psychological and Physical Harm

The case of Kalief Browder, highlights the negative effects solitary confinement has on juveniles and the flaws in our criminal justice system. Similarly, juvenile cases such as Kalief Browder also sheds light on prisoners who did not previously suffer from mental illness (Gordon, 2014). Kalief Browder was a 16 year old boy accused and arrested by police for allegedly stealing a backpack and due to his lack of financial resources, he was unable to post bail (Strutini, 2015). As a result, Kalief Browder was sent to Rikers Island to await trial (Strutini, 2015). Ultimately, Kalief Browder spent three years at Rikers Island, two of the three was spent in solitary confinement. Similar to many juveniles, Browder was left with his thoughts and confined in a small room. Studies have highlighted that juveniles put into solitary confinement for extended periods of time, have had a direct impact on the juveniles because you are deprived of your basic necessities including mental health treatment, resulting in the failure to control their own behavior and the lack of meaningful interpersonal contact (Birkhead, 2015). Significant personal belongings in prison such as pens, reading and writing materials or radios are typically prohibited, leaving inmates alone with just their thoughts. If you are seen trying to inflict self -harm, (i.e cutting yourself or not eating) there are even worse consequences for inmates, such as longer stays in confinement, and you can be completely stripped naked with absolutely nothing in your cell in order to prevent yourself from inflicting harm again. Also, the lack of physical activity itself, being isolated in a room 23 hours out 24 hours a day is very detrimental to the physical growth of juveniles, who tend to eat and grow at rapid rates during their adolescence stage (Lee, 2016). Juveniles who experience the harsh conditions of solitary confinement can experience the rapid loss of weight or physical health issues due to the lack of proper resources available in solitary confinement and in juvenile facilities/prisons alone.

Prolonged or long durations of solitary confinement may cause or worsen depression, paranoia and outbursts of anger, which is quite common when analyzing the effects of individuals put into confinement for 23 hours, whether adult or juvenile (Rademacher, 2016). Such effects counters the argument of those who argue that solitary confinement promotes passive behavior and control. However such effects are subject to the mental and physical capacity of every individual that is exposed to the harsh conditions of solitary confinement. Without the proper mental treatment that is restricted in solitary confinement, how is anyone, let alone juveniles supposed to be able to cope which such drastic conditions? This was evident in the case of Kalief Browder. Browder whose mental health deteriorated over time and these effects became more evident when he left the solitary confinement environment. Once Kalief Browder’s charges were dropped, he was sent out into the real world forced to assimilate into the community he was once a part of , but that idea seemed to be impossible, similar to many issues juveniles face with life outside of prison. Unfortunately, in the case of Kalief Browder, after only three years post release from jail, Browder committed suicide, showcasing the detrimental effects that solitary confinement can have on juveniles. He was unable to assimilate back into his own community, not because he did not want to, but prolonged exposure to confinement would not allow him to. Due to the age of juveniles, it is said that juveniles are more prone or at risk to experience adverse reactions compared to mature adults (Rademacher, 2016). This is a result of juveniles not being mentally or physically at the same level as adults causing greater impact (Rademacher, 2016). Suicide is only one of many issues that juveniles who are placed in solitary confinement face. There are also many other issues such as the main issue of my study, which is the likelihood of juvenile recidivism.

The study of the effects and relationship of solitary confinement and recidivism is a topic that hasn’t been researched fully especially in the case of juveniles. Such research is needed to understand the true effects of solitary confinement on a juvenile, which can include the potential psychological effects that would lead a juvenile to re-offend upon their release into society. A previous study conducted by Lovell, Johnson and Cain (2007), concluded that there could be a relationship between solitary confinement and recidivism, more so pertaining to adults. This conclusion was made after the researchers were able to match adult prisoners in a supermax facility in Washington with inmates serving their time in a regular prison setting. Throughout history, as a solution for overcrowding in prisons, the use of solitary confinement greatly expanded due to the invention of supermax facilities (Steinbuch, 2014). Super max facilities required inmates to be placed in confinement at higher rates (Steinbuch, 2014). In the study, the Washington inmates were grouped via characteristics such as age and criminal history etc. In order to acquire suitable results, the researchers conducted a longitudinal study where they found prisoners that were placed in solitary confinement committed crimes at a faster rate compared to the sampled general prison population after being released directly from prison (Tsui, 2017). The crimes consisted of new felonies, that only took solitary confined prisoners a year to commit opposed to a little under 3 years for the other inmates in the study’s general prison sample group. With this study Lovell, Johnson and Cain (2007) were able to create a relationship between solitary confinement and recidivism because their tests subjects placed in solitary confinement (supermax prison) had higher recidivism rates, making it one of few studies to isolate a relationship.

Another previous study that analyzes inmates and solitary confinement is from Daniel Mears and William Bales, who studied inmates who had been in prison for at least one year and who were released from Florida prisons between July 1996 and June 2001(Mears & Bales, 2009). Mears and Bales were able to match over a thousand inmates, who spent three months in solitary confinement with inmates who were placed in Florida prison general population. In order to obtain the most accurate results, Mears and Bales also matched the sample of inmates based on similar criteria such as age, sex and prior criminal history (Tsui, 2017). The studies conclusion was based on the sampled group of inmates placed in solitary confinement had a higher rate of recidivism (24.2 %), particularly within three years post-release (Tsui, 2017). When compared to inmates who were not isolated in prison, the percentage was less (20.5%)(Tsui, 2017). In the discussion aspect of the study, Mears and Bales (2009) cautioned that the use of their findings was not necessarily sufficient enough to use as a nationwide example for solitary confinement because the conditions will obviously vary from state to state, but they did conclude that states that keep inmates in for longer periods of time without proper rehabilitative services are more likely to see higher recidivism rates (Mears & Bales, 2009).


In order to test my hypothesis of a relationship between solitary confinement and juvenile recidivism rates, it will require a comparative longitudinal study for at least three years in an attempt to track/ measure recidivism rate. Due to statistics from the Bureau of Statistics, as well as the studies I previously stated, for accurate comparison and control of the rates of offenses, it is best to study inmates over an extended period of time.

The study will focus on juvenile male offenders of the same age (under 18), with criminal histories, race etc,. Similar to Lovell, Johnson,Cain (2007) and Mears and Bales (2009) studies on the inmates in supermax prisons, this study will compare the juvenile offenders who have been placed in solitary confinement to juveniles who are placed in general population towards the end of their time in prison until their release into society. However, previous studies incorporated supermax facilities, whether in Florida and Washington, but my study would like to focus on detention facilities in the state of New York. Juveniles that were placed in Rikers and then transported or released could be key samples. The amount of time placed in solitary confinement should be 30 days minimum as well as individuals who have been in jail for 6 months or more, allowing the opportunity for better data to be recovered from individuals that would be pulled out of the pool of inmates.

All factors such as gender, age, race, risk level, mental health status, institutional behavior, how inmates are treated and sentencing time frame all have a key impact on the data that will be received from this study. The mental health status component will tie into my research question, regarding the psychological effects that can occur post- release of confinement. As far as specific samples to study, such data would need to be collected from juvenile detention facilities and would solely be up to the discretion of the juvenile facilities to allow the release of inmates criminal history, as well as history/reasons regarding why the individual was placed in solitary confinement. Similarly done in previous studies, in order for Lovell, Johnson and Cain (2007) to receive access to potential data, they had to go directly through the Washington state supermax prison. Such efforts is needed in order to collect samples from an accurate number of juveniles in their system, based on the criteria previously given for study purposes.


In order to produce the most accurate results, the measure of recidivism will include: When and if the inmates reoffend, if the crime is more aggressive or severe than what they were initially charged for and how long did it take the juvenile to commit the crime. The main interest is to be focused on new felonies and criminal offenses on any level (i.e misdemeanor or felony) in order to not limit the potential amount of data to be collected. According to research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics there has been high recidivism rates among prisoners, especially within the three years of an inmate’s release (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2018). Such statistics reflect the entire prison population, so according to what we know about age and crime, chances are quite higher that those who are reoffending began at a young age.

Lack of proper resources outside of prison as well as inside has a direct effect regarding the likelihood of an inmate reoffending. This has been seen time and time again in adult offenders, but is also highlighted in literature regarding the rehabilitation of juveniles (Sametz, Ahren, & Yuan, 1994). Lack of proper rehabilitation such as solitary confinement will cause an inmate to go out into the “real world” unprepared for the harsh realities of their environment, evidently causing one to commit crimes. According to Sharon Gordon in her article, “Solitary Confinement, Public Safety, and Recidivism”, Gordon states: The “paranoia and social anxiety” that result from solitary confinement mean that prisoners may have more difficulty “getting their bearings during the first few months” after they are released from prison, when they are at the greatest risk of reoffending (Gordon, 2014).

Such studies have shown us that when we compare juveniles that have been placed into solitary confinement to those who haven’t or experienced solitary confinement, juveniles or adults do not have the same levels of rehabilitative opportunities. As a result, inmates who are placed in solitary confinement are at a disadvantage than others who are not due to the lack of resources (Basso, 2018). This can have a harsher impact on juveniles because the adolescent age is an important aspect in one’s life and if a juvenile is consistently in and out of the criminal justice system without proper rehabilitative assistance at a young age, the juvenile is at a higher risk of recidivism.


Solitary confinement is an important issue that has affected thousands of juveniles and adults who are subjected to such conditions. Although there have been positive initiatives on state and federal levels in order to limit the use of solitary confinement, more must be done (Basso, 2018). Based on previous studies conducted on the topic of solitary confinement and recidivism, it is clear that prisoners do not exhibit positive outcomes from being placed in isolation (Tsui, 2017). The study proposed is to further research the relationship of solitary confinement and recidivism rate, similarly to Lovell, Johnson, Cain, Mears, and Bales that includes characteristics such as age, sex, race and prior record in order to create samples of juveniles to be studied. However, unlike data that has focused mainly on adult inmates in supermax prisons, this study will have a different approach, focusing on the progression or lack of progression for juveniles. Data and results will significantly vary from recent studies due to the age group, as well as group size because both studies focused on the treatment of adults in solitary confinement in supermax facilities, but implications would result in a possibility of higher rates in recidivism due to the fact that the age group that will be sampled is juveniles. Based on the focus of juvenile facilities and the impact it has on inmates, there are possible limitations to the study. Facilities and prisons already have a self contained environment that is heavily regulated and monitored so gaining access to facilities and prisons to conduct research can be a challenge, thus limiting the amount of sufficient data obtained. However, studies have been able to be done in this field and a study such as mine is important for the advancement of juveniles in the criminal justice system who will eventually become members of our society.

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Effects of Solitary Confinement on The Recidivism Rate of Juveniles. (2020, Sep 16). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/effects-of-solitary-confinement-on-the-recidivism-rate-of-juveniles-essay

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