Solitary Confinement

Buried alive prisoner artwork

Buried alive prisoner artwork

Solitary confinement is a form of imprisonment made up of long periods of isolation, with little or no human contact, often including lights on, or off, for 24 hours per day, deliberately loud sounds, extreme hot or cold, menacing dogs and other egregious violations of human rights.

We find the use of solitary confinement to be:

  • Pervasive – far overused and racially disparate
  • Illegal – a form of torture recognized and prohibited under international law
  • Harmful – to the mental health of those with and without pre-existing mental conditions

AFSC is concerned about the use of solitary confinement in the U.S and wants to see it abolished. Below are resources that explain the problems with solitary confinement and highlight our work.


The Lessons of Marion

AFSC report from 1985 on the Failure of a Maximum Security Prison: A History and Analysis, with Voices of Prisoners

Buried Alive: Solitary Confinement in Arizona’s Prisons and Jails

A 2007 report by AFSC-Arizona staff Matthew Lowen and Caroline Isaacs on the use of long term solitary confinement in various correctional facilities in Arizona. 

Buried Alive: Long-Term Isolation in California Youth and Adult Prisons

By Laura Magnani May 2008 AFSC publication, 22 pages.  Report on California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation over-use and misuse of isolation units, with six recommendations for change.

The Prison Inside the Prison

Written in 2003, The Prison Inside the Prison looks at the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

Survivors Manual: Surviving In Solitary

survivors manual

survivor's manual cover page , outline of a man crouched with head down

A manual written by and for people living in control units.
Download (PDF)

A manual written by and for people living in control units 

Solitary confinement, characterized by 23-hour a day lockout with minimal exercise and lack of human contact, affects an estimated 100,000 prisoners in federal and state prisons in almost every state. Thus the need for “Survivors Manual,” which was first issued in 1998, is even more vital. This is the fifth edition, released in 2012.

Torture In U.S. Prisons

Evidence of U.S. Human Rights Violations

Torture and abuse of prisoners in the United States stand in contrast to international treaties, conventions, and declarations that provide basic guidelines for the treatment of prisoners.  

Inalienable Rights

Applying international human rights standards to the U.S. criminal justice system.

Private Prisons: The Public's Problem

A quality assessment of Arizona’s Private Prisons

Arizona has enthusiastically embraced prison privatization, with 13% of the state prison population housed in private facilities (the 11th highest percentage in the nation). Motivated by a belief that private enterprise could build and manage prisons safely and at lower cost than the state, the legislature has mandated construction of thousands of private prison beds. Little was done over the years to test actual performance of private prisons or to determine their cost effectiveness.

The complete report is 105 pages.

Who we are

AFSC is a Quaker organization devoted to service, development, and peace programs throughout the world. Our work is based on the belief in the worth of every person, and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice. Learn more

Where we work

AFSC has offices around the world. To see a complete list see the Where We Work page.

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