Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Prison System Versus Critics’ Views on the Use of Restrictive Housing: Objective Risk Classification or Ascriptive Assignment?

Prison System Versus Critics’ Views on the Use of Restrictive Housing: Objective Risk Classification or Ascriptive Assignment?

Labrecque, Ryan M., and Daniel P. Mears. “Prison System Versus Critics’ Views on the Use of Restrictive Housing: Objective Risk Classification or Ascriptive Assignment?” The Prison Journal, 2019, 1-25.

Although restrictive housing is a widely used practice, there is a dearth of knowledge about who is placed there and why. The authors of this article weigh two competing views: 1) the prison system view, which argues that such housing is reserved for incarcerated people “who pose an objective risk to safety,” and therefore “the judicious use of solitary confinement increases prison safety, order, and control,” and the critics’ view, which contends that solitary confinement “constitutes an overused correctional policy that harms inmates, staff, and prison systems” and that placement in such housing disproportionately affects people based on “ascriptive characteristics, such as their mental health status or race.”

This study examines how often officials in a certain state corrections system place people in restrictive housing, and the results “indicate support for both perspectives.” While placements in solitary confinement “appear to be driven by objective risk factors” like in-prison misconduct, such factors “do not appear to be the sole determinants” of placement—characteristics like mental health, gender, and age also seem to affect placements. This study calls for more research and closer scrutiny of “why—in practice—prison systems use restrictive housing and what determines whom officials place in these settings.”

Click here to read the article. (Note: access to the full article is limited as it is published in The Prison Journal.)

Key words: restrictive housing, segregation, solitary confinement, prison, prison isolation, disciplinary process