Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Is mental illness associated with placement into solitary confinement in correctional settings? A systematic review and meta‐analysis

Is mental illness associated with placement into solitary confinement in correctional settings? A systematic review and meta‐analysis

Dellazizzo, Laura, Mimosa Luigi, Charles‐Édouard Giguère, Marie‐Hélène Goulet, and Alexandre Dumais. “Is mental illness associated with placement into solitary confinement in correctional settings? A systematic review and meta‐analysis.” International Journal of Mental Health Nursing (2020).

This International Journal of Mental Health Nursing article analyzed 11 studies—including samples of nearly 164,000 incarcerated people total—that assessed both mental illness and placement into solitary confinement. Most of the studies included a focus on several psychiatric disorders, and only two present information about specific mental illnesses prevalent in correctional facilities and the solitary confinement population. Researchers found that there is a “moderate association” between any mental health problem and placement into solitary confinement, even when considering potential confounding factors.

In other words, this analysis suggests that incarcerated people with mental health problems are at an elevated risk of being placed in solitary confinement. The article suggests several reasons that may account for this, including the rise in the number of people with mental illness in correctional facilities, correctional officer discretion in disciplinary write-ups, mental illness causing disruptive behavior, and diminished access to mental health treatment in facilities.

These findings add to the existing research that presents other predictors associated with being placed in solitary, such as gender, age, and ethnicity. The conclusions also provide support for correctional agencies to limit the use of solitary confinement for people with mental illness, as this population is particularly vulnerable to the effects of this practice.

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Keywords: mentally ill, SMI, serious mental illness, personality disorder, mental health needs, restrictive housing, policy.