Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Solitary confinement placement and post-release mortality risk among formerly incarcerated individuals: a population-based study

Solitary confinement placement and post-release mortality risk among formerly incarcerated individuals: a population-based study

Wildeman, Christopher, and Lars H. Andersen. “Solitary confinement placement and post-release mortality risk among formerly incarcerated individuals: a population-based study.” The Lancet Public Health 5, no. 2 (2020): e107-e113.

This study, published by The Lancet Public Health, assesses the relationship between placement in administrative and disciplinary segregation and mortality in the 5 years following release among formerly incarcerated individuals. Researchers used data from the Danish Prison and Probation Service and Danish administrative registers, which included 13,776 individuals incarcerated in Denmark between 2006 and 2011. The analysis focuses on short stays in segregation for individuals who were approved for release back into society within, often, a few months. As much as two-thirds of people included the analysis had spent time in segregation for less than a week in total during their incarceration. This provides a contrast to the disproportionate focus on long-term stays in segregation in previous research.

Formerly incarcerated people “who spent time in segregation had higher overall mortality 5 years after release (4.5%) than did those who had not spent time in solitary confinement (2.8%).” Additionally, 3% of the formerly incarcerated people studied died during the follow-up period, while 0.3% of non-incarcerated people in Denmark died in the same period. The findings reveal an association between segregation and elevated mortality due to non-natural causes such as accidents, suicide, and violence—and no significant association with natural causes. This differs from research in the US that links long-term stays in segregation to death by natural causes—due to conditions in segregation that may cause or exacerbate health issues, such as lack of exercise or exposure to sunlight.

This study adds to the body of research that argues that even short stays in segregation can be detrimental to the health of incarcerated people.

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Keywords: health, mental health, physical health, restrictive housing, segregation, solitary confinement, solitary, mortality, dying, suicide.