15 Days

End the Torture of Solitary Confinement

In the US today, more than 80,000 people - men, women, and children - live up to 23 hours a day in tiny cells without natural light, air, or human contact. Many remain there for months, years, or even decades.

The UN's expert on torture considers more than 15 days in solitary confinement a human rights violation. The US is the only democratic nation that makes widespread use of long-term solitary confinement in its prisons, even for minor, nonviolent infractions as simple as having too many postage stamps.

Is solitary confinement torture? What effect does it have on the people who endure it? 

Hear one man’s story »

Why End Solitary Confinement? 

Putting a person in solitary confinement for more than 15 days is widely considered to be torture. Individuals can and often do spend months, years or decades in solitary confinement. 

Why is being alone considered torture? 

Confining a human being in isolation beyond 15 days has been shown to cause irreversible psychological damage, like hallucinations, issues with impulse control, impaired cognitive ability, loss of memory, suicidal ideation, and personality dissociation.  These effects can be permanent. 

How can it be part of the legal process then?

It's technically not. Individuals are not sentenced to solitary confinement by a judge and jury in the US. All solitary confinement placements are issued by prison staff. 

But isn't it used to punish the worst criminals?

Solitary confinement is not actually "for the worst of the worst" or "the serial killers and Hannibal Lecters of the world." Many people are placed in solitary for petty, non-violent infractions, like having too many pencils or having two pillows instead of one. 

Well, it's obviously being used for something. Like keeping people in check.

Actually, the use of solitary confinement has shown to have little to no effect on reducing prison violence. It may even contribute to increased rates of violence within prison facilities. 

What if I don't care about prisoners' rights. They broke the law. 

More than 90% of people in prison will eventually be back in society. Spending time in solitary confinement can leave these individuals psychologically damaged and unable to find work or live normally, once they're released from prison. They also have a higher chance of landing back in prison.


Your taxes being affected. The average cost of keeping a person in prison for a year is $25,000. The average cost of keeping a person in a 'supermax' prison for a year is $75,000, or three times the cost to taxpayers.

Well, I know if I were in prison I'd want to stay away from the real criminals. It can't be that bad.

In New York and California, research has shown that suicide rates are significantly higher in solitary confinement than in the general population. And, according to one study, most of the suicides that take place in isolation occur within eight weeks. It is that bad. 

Still not convinced? Look at the numbers.