Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Effects of Sensory Deprivation in Psychiatric Seclusion and Solitary Confinement

Effects of Sensory Deprivation in Psychiatric Seclusion and Solitary Confinement

Grassain, Stuart, and Nancy Friedman “Effects of Sensory Deprivation in Psychiatric Seclusion and Solitary Confinement.” International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 8(1986): 49-65.

“Discusses 2 situations involving the intentional imposition of sensory deprivation (the use of seclusion rooms in inpatient psychiatric settings and the use of solitary confinement in maximum security prisons) that became the subjects of adjudication. It is noted that these 2 situations have begun to be linked in the public mind. Findings on solitary confinement and the effects of sensory deprivation in psychiatric seclusion are summarized. Variables explored in the literature on experimental sensory deprivation are examined, including environmental conditions utilized, intrapsychic variables, duration of confinement, the perceived intent of isolation, and the influence of expectation. It is concluded that there are major intrinsic differences between the expectable effects of sensory deprivation in psychiatric seclusion and in solitary confinement. A theoretical basis for predicting (1) serious psychopathological consequences of rigidly imposed solitary confinement and (2) possible therapeutic utility of psychiatric seclusion is presented.”

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Keywords: solitary confinement, segregation, isolation, sensory deprivation, psychiatric seclusion, prison isolation, mental health