New Research and Papers
Aging in Prison: Reducing Elder Incarceration and Promoting Public Safety
This policy document, published by the Center for Justice at Columbia University and edited by Samuel Roberts, Associate Professor of History at Columbia University and director for the Institute for Research in African American Studies, is the result of the 2014 symposium hosted by the Mailman School of Public Health/Columbia University and organized by the Center for Justice, the Osborne Association, the Correctional Association of New York, Release Aging People in Prison/RAPP, Be the Evidence Project/Fordham, and the Florence V. Burden Foundation. The symposium examined the growing numbers of aging people in prison, their prison conditions, their transition back into the community and the need to increase the release of aging people who pose little or no public safety risk. This is a critical part of reducing mass incarceration and of creating a more fair, just and humane justice system.
At America's Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly
(June 2012) A report describing the costs and causes of the dramatic rise in our elderly prisoner population: The report uses original data collected from all 50 states and the federal system to demonstrate the high costs and meager benefits of incarcerating the elderly. The report also provides a fiscal analysis, conducted by the ACLU’s in-house economist, which estimates that states would save $66,000 per year for each elderly prisoner they release. Findings from the report include:
The elderly prisoner population is growing exponentially. By 2030, one-third our prison population will be elderly, amounting to more than 400,000 elderly prisoners; in 1981, only 8,853 state and federal prisoners were elderly.
Elderly prisoners are very expensive. Today, the U.S. spends about $16 billion annually locking up aging prisoners; in 1988, we spent about $11 billion on the entire corrections system. It costs $34,135 per year to house an average prisoner, but $68,270 per year to house a prisoner 50 and older.
The rise in elderly prisoners is due to severe sentencing policies, not increased crime. In 1979, only 2% of aging prisoners nationally had spent more than 20 years behind bars. Today, that percentage is as high as 15% in Mississippi and 25% in Ohio.
If released, elderly prisoners are unlikely to commit new crimes. As a national average, just 5 to 10 percent of aging prisoners return to prison for any new crime.
Boxed In: The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New York
By by Scarlet Kim, Taylor Pendergrass and Helen Zelon.NYACLU. October 2012. The website includes the report, letters from prisoners in isolation, a tour of "Malone, NY", data on who is locked in isolation in NY, and conditions of confinement.
From the report: "Every day, nearly 4,500 prisoners across New York live in extreme isolation, deprived of all meaningful human
interaction or mental stimulation, confined to the small, barren cells where they spend 23 hours a day. Disembodied
hands deliver meals through a slot in the cell door. "Recreation" offers no respite: An hour, alone, in an empty,
outdoor pen, no larger than the cell, enclosed by high concrete walls or thick metal grates. No activities, programs
or classes break up the day. No phone calls are allowed. Few personal possessions are permitted. These prisoners
languish in isolation for days, weeks, months and even years on end.
It reflects how we allocate increasingly scarce public resources: New York spends about $60,000 a prisoner - or $2.7 billion on state prisons - per year. And it raises essential questions about how we value and protect human dignity.
Each of these concerns is directly implicated by an ongoing phenomenon behind New York's prison walls - the use
of "solitary confinement" as punishment on an unprecedented scale and for extraordinary lengths of time.
New York employs an unusual brand of "solitary confinement." Roughly half of the 4,500 prisoners in "solitary
confinement" spend 23 hours a day locked down alone in an isolation cell. The other half are locked down in an
isolation cell with another prisoner - a practice known as "double-celling," which forces two strangers into intimate,
Buried Alive: Solitary Confinement in Arizona's Prisons and Jails
By Caroline Isaacs and Mathew Lowen. AFSC Arizona, May 2008. The report is the first attempt to catalog the use and impacts of solitary confinement for adults and juveniles in the Arizona Department of Corrections, the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections and the Maricopa County Fourth Avenue Jail. The report is part of the national AFSC StopMax Campaign.
Callous and Cruel: Use of Force Against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons
Human Rights Watch (May 2015) A report about the use of physical force by staff on the hundreds of thousands of incarcerated people with serious mental health needs. The report draws on many sources – interviews with current and former prison and jail officials, current and former correctional mental health professionals, use of force and mental health experts, lawyers, disability rights advocates and academics with relevant expertise – though not on interviews with currently or formerly incarcerated persons. Their stories are derived from court filings in which they were plaintiffs or from newspaper articles. In a few instances, there were videos of the incidents described.
A Closer Look at Solitary Confinement in the United States
By Kalief Browder. Kalief Browder, 22, was arrested at 16 years old and spent 800 days in solitary confinement of his years in Riker's island without ever having been tried or convicted of a crime. His suicide was not long after he submitted this paper.
Colorado Department of Corrections Administrative Segregation and Classification Review
By James Austin and Emmitt Sparkman. The report was funded by the National Institute of Corrections. October 2011. From Solitary Watch on the report "The Colorado Department of Corrections houses close to 1,500 prisoners in "ad-seg," about 7 percent of the entire state prison population. That's significantly above the national average of 2 percent or less -- and if you factor in the additional 670 prisoners who are in "punitive segregation" as a result of disciplinary actions, the CDOC figure is closer to 10 percent. And four out of ten of the prisoners in solitary have a diagnosed mental illness, roughly double the proportion in 1999. The state's heavy reliance on ad-seg, including building a second supermax prison to house the overload, has put Colorado in the center of a growing national controversy over whether isolating prisoners creates more problems in the long run."
Coming Out of Concrete Closets: A Report on Black & Pink’s National LGBTQ Prisoner Survey
During the latter months of 2014, Black & Pink, conducted a survey of our prisoner membership. Nearly 1,200 prisoners responded to our 133-question survey, producing the largest ever dataset available on the experiences of LGBTQ prisoners in the country. The intent of this survey was to get some truth out from behind prison walls about the experiences of LBGTQ prisoners in the United States. Our report aims to share that truth by elevating prisoner voices, stories, and leadership to inspire immediate collective action.
The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's
Prisons released Confronting Confinement, a report on
violence and abuse in U.S. jails and prisons, the
impact of those problems on public safety and public
health, and how correctional facilities nationwide can
become safer and more effective.
Cruel and Degrading: The use of dogs for cell extractions in U.S. prisons
A report from Human Rights Watch. October 2006. Policies in Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, South Dakota and Utah allow guards to use "aggressive, unmuzzled" dogs to compel uncooperative inmates to leave their cells. It said dogs may be ordered to bite prisoners if they resist.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment: How A Savage Gang of Deputies Controls LA County Jails
A Report by the ACLU National Prison Project and the ACLU of Southern California. Principle authors: Sarah Liebowitz, ACLU Foundation of Southern California-Jails Project,
Peter Eliasberg-Legal Director, ACLU Foundation of Southern California,Margaret Winter-Associate Director, ACLU National Prison Project-Esther Lim, ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Jails Project Coordinator. September 2011
Custody and Control: Conditions
of Confinement in New Yorks Juvenile Prisons for
Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties
Union take the first in-depth look at New York's
highest security juvenile prisons for girls. What the
report uncovers is disturbing: Upon being found
"delinquent," young girls from backgrounds of
intergenerational poverty, many of whom have survived
abuse and trauma, are locked up and again abused and
neglected, this time at the hands of the state. This
report documents the excessive use of a face-down
"restraint" procedure in which girls are thrown to the
floor, often causing injury, as well as incidents of
sexual abuse, and inadequate educational and mental
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Supermax Prisons
Author: Daniel P. Mears. May 10, 2006, The Urban Institute.
Executive Summary: Twenty years ago,
super-maximum-security prisons were rare in America. As of 1996, over two-thirds of states had "supermax" facilities that
collectively housed more than 20,000 inmates. Based on
the present study, however, as of 2004, 44 states had
supermax prisons. Designed to hold the putatively most
violent and disruptive inmates in single-cell
confinement for 23 hours per day, often for an
indefinite period of time, these facilities have been
lightning rods for controversy. Economic considerations
are one reason- supermaxes typically cost two or three
times more to build and operate than traditional
maximum security prisons. A perhaps bigger reason lies
in the criticism by some that supermax confinement is
unconstitutional and inhumane. While proponents and
opponents of supermax prisons debate such issues, a
fundamental set of questions has gone largely
unexamined: What exactly are the goals of supermax
prisons? How, if at all, are these goals achieved? And
what are their unintended impacts?
Improvements Needed in Bureau of Prisons' Monitoring and Evaluation of Impact of Segregated Housing
Government Accounting Office report on the (over) use of segregation by the Bureau of Prisons.
"BOP has not assessed the impact of segregated housing on institutional safety or the impacts of long-term segregation on inmates. In January 2013, BOP authorized a study of segregated housing; however, it is unclear to what extent the study will assess the extent to which segregated housing units contribute to institutional safety. As of January 2013, BOP is considering conducting mental health case reviews for inmates held in SHUs or ADX for more than 12 continuous months. However, without an assessment of the impact of segregation on institutional safety or study of the long-term impact of segregated housing on inmates, BOP cannot determine the extent to which segregated housing achieves its stated purpose to protect inmates, staff and the general public."
It’s About Time: Aging Prisoners, Increasing Costs, and Geriatric Release
By Tina Chiu. Vera Institute for Justice. April 2010. The report examines statutes related to geriatric release in 15 states and the District of Columbia, identifies factors that help explain the discrepancy, and offers recommendations for those who would address it. Harsh sentencing policies have made correctional facilities throughout the United States home to a growing number of older adults. Yet most states with provisions for releasing older prisoners rarely use them, despite the relatively low risk eligible inmates would pose to public safety and the opportunity for potential cost savings.
Lifetime in Lockdown: How Isolation Conditions Impact Prisoner Reentry
By Dr. Brackette F. Williams. Arizona AFSC, August 2012. The study finds that spending time in solitary leaves people "deeply traumatized and essentially socially disabled." These "crippling symptoms" combine with "the extensive legal and structural barriers to successful reentry" to create "recipe for failure." It is hardly surprising, then, that the report is able to "directly link conditions in Arizona’s supermax prisons with the state’s high recidivism rate."
More Mentally Ill Persons are In Jails and Prisons Than In Hospital
A new report by The Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association. May 2010 Findings are based on 2004 and 2005 data from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice report indicating that 16 percent of prisoners have mental illness today compared with 6.4 percent in 1983.
Presumption of Guilt: The Global Overuse of Pretrial Detention
September 2014, Open Society Justice Initiative.
Around the world, millions are effectively punished before they are tried. Legally entitled to be considered innocent and released pending trial, many accused are instead held in pretrial detention, where they are subjected to torture, exposed to life threatening disease, victimized by violence, and pressured for bribes. It is literally worse than being convicted: pretrial detainees routinely experience worse conditions than sentenced prisoners. The suicide rate among pretrial detainees is three times higher than among convicted prisoners, and ten times that of the outside community. Pretrial detention harms individuals, families, and communities; wastes state resources and human potential; and undermines the rule of law.
Seeing into Solitary: a review of the laws and policies of certain nation regarding solitary confinement of detainees
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez. (October 2016). The report includes within its scope 35 jurisdictions, including eight U.S. states (California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas) and twenty-six countries, including the U.S. federal prison system and immigration detention system. Seeing into Solitary builds on a prior groundbreaking report by Méndez, presented to the UN in 2011, that for the first time declared that solitary confinement may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and in some cases torture, and may thus, under certain conditions, be prohibited under international law. In that 2011 report, Méndez further called for a categorical ban on subjecting juveniles and people with mental illness to solitary confinement, and to end the practice of prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement.
Solitary Confinement: Common Misconceptions and Emerging Safe Alternatives
Alison Shames, Jessa Wilcox, Ram Subramanian. May 2015. The Vera Institute of Justice. This publication is the first in a series on solitary confinement, its use and misuse, and ways to safely reduce it in our nation's prisons.
A Solitary Failure: The Waste, Cost and Harm of Solitary Confinement in Texas
(Report, February 2015), TX ACLU and the TX Civil Rights Project. The report criticized Texas for keeping 4.4 percent of its inmates in solitary confinement — 6,564 in September 2014, or more than the combined prison population of 12 states.
Testimonies of Torture in New Jersey Prisons: Evidence of Human Rights Violations
A collection of testimonies from prisoners in New Jersey prisons, documenting uses of physical, chemical, and no-touch torture, among other human rights abuses. Edited by Bonnie Kerness, American Friends Service Committee, Prison Watch Program. Feb. 2015
Texas Jailhouse Stories
In Texas county jails, thousands of people wait for justice. Many have not been convicted but are held in dangerous and inhumane conditions while their cases are decided.
Read their stories.
Torture in United States Prisons: Evidence of Human Rights Violations
2nd Edition. Edited by: Bonnie Kerness, Coordinator, Prison Watch and Editorial Assistant: Beth Breslaw
Intern, Prison Watch © 2011 American Friends Service Committee Northeast Region, Prison Watch Project
U.S.A. Cruel Isolation: Amnesty International's Concerns About Conditions in Arizona Maximum Security Prisons
(April 2012) This report describes Amnesty International's concerns relating to the conditions under which prisoners are confined in the Special Management Units (SMU) of Arizona State Prison Complex (ASPC)-Eyman and other maximum custody facilities operated by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC).
Worse Than Second-Class: Solitary Confinement of Women in the United States
ACLU April 2014. More than 200,000 women are locked in jails and prisons in the United States. These prisoners are routinely subjected to solitary confinement, spending at least 22 hours a day without human interaction for days, weeks, or months at a time. And yet, the solitary confinement of women is often overlooked.