Center on Sentencing and Corrections

The Most Restrictive Alternative: A Litigation History of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons, 1972-2009

The Most Restrictive Alternative: A Litigation History of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons, 1972-2009

Reiter, Keramet Anne. “The Most Restrictive Alternative: A Litigation History of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons, 1972-2009.” Studies in Law, Politics, and Society 57 (2012): 72-124.

Maximum-security prisons in the United States detain thousands of people in long-term solitary confinement every year under conditions of extreme sensory deprivation. Nearly every state built a maximum-security facility between the late 1980s and the 1990s. This article analyzes the role of federally incarcerated people’s rights litigation in the 1960s and 1970s in shaping the prisons, especially maximum-security prisons, in the 1980s and 1990s. The article examines federal case law and utilizes archival research and oral history interviews with lawyers, experts, and correctional administrators to explore the relationship between federal court litigation and prison building and designing.

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Key words: disciplinary segregation, administrative segregation, restrictive housing, restricted housing, segregation, segregated housing, lawsuits, legal challenges 

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