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UNLOCK THE BOX

IS SOLITARY REALLY TORTURE?

The world’s foremost voice on Human Rights, the United Nations, says YES! The effects of solitary are well documented and research shows that those who experience solitary more often than not experience psychosis and become acutely suicidal.

Change on this issue may happen one prison system at a time, and it may not come quickly or easily—but we are approaching a tipping point, and with persistence and resources, it will come. The arc of history bends toward justice, and is on our side.

JOIN THE FIGHT

Unlock the Box the national campaign to end solitary confinement

JOIN THE FIGHT

Unlock the Box the national campaign to end solitary confinement

JOIN THE FIGHT

Protestor holding "End Torture" sign

JOIN THE MOVEMENT

You are the key to banning solitary confinement.  Click on your state to explore local advocacy groups and sign-up below the map to become a part of the Unlock The Box campaign today. 

WHAT WE BELIEVE

Our prisons are a reflection of our values as a society and a nation, and should uphold human rights and respect the dignity and worth of all people.

Any meaningful transformation of our criminal justice system must address what happens inside prison walls. Reformers and abolitionists alike have a stake in opposing solitary and other inhumane conditions of confinement.

Solitary confinement is a reflection and a measure of a wider punitive culture within the criminal justice system. Working to end solitary confinement helps challenge this culture, and the incarceration crisis it has created. We support reforms that seek to roll back the culture, policies, and practices that are the underpinnings of mass incarceration.

An overwhelming body of evidence shows that solitary confinement causes extreme and sometimes permanent damage to the individuals who endure it, and to the families and communities to which they will return. It is also costly and counterproductive, increasing recidivism while failing to reduce prison violence.

People of color are often disproportionately subjected to solitary confinement, over and beyond their disproportionate representation in the general prison population. Ending solitary confinement requires navigation and resolution of these inequities and the racial bias driving them.

 

Humane, effective, and safe alternatives exist for all uses of solitary confinement within all segments of the prison population.

Effective campaigns to end solitary confinement must engage all stakeholders, including incarcerated people and their loved ones, advocates and grassroots activists, corrections professionals, legal and health professionals, policymakers, media, and the public.

Change on this issue may happen one prison system at a time, and it may not come quickly or easily—but we are approaching a tipping point, and with persistence and resources, it will come. The arc of history bends toward justice, and is on our side.

UNLOCK THE TRUTH

Think you know solitary? There are persistent misconceptions about the practice. 

DON’T FALL FOR MISINFORMATION ABOUT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT. DOWNLOAD OUR QUICK GUIDE TO SOLITARY TO STAY INFORMED

MYTH #1:

SOLITARY IS
ONLY FOR
VIOLENT
OFFENSES
FALSE.
Solitary is used for
minor infractions like talking
back to a guard
or cheering too loudly
while watching
a sporting event.

MYTH #1:

SOLITARY IS
ONLY FOR
VIOLENT
OFFENSES
FALSE.
Solitary is used for
minor infractions like talking
back to a guard
or cheering too loudly
while watching
a sporting event.

MYTH #1:

SOLITARY IS
ONLY FOR
VIOLENT
OFFENSES
FALSE.
Solitary is used for
minor infractions like talking
back to a guard
or cheering too loudly
while watching
a sporting event.

UNLOCK THE BOX

IS SOLITARY REALLY TORTURE?

The world’s foremost voice on Human Rights, the United Nations, says YES! The effects of solitary are well documented and research shows that those who experience solitary more often than not experience psychosis and become acutely suicidal.

UNLOCK THE BOX

TAKE ACTION

We need YOU to help us end the torture of solitary confinement in the United States.  

END TORTURE NOW

MAKING HISTORY

New Jersey

Our partner, the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement won passage of the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act– -effectively outlawing solitary confinement in New Jersey.  They made history as the first state to pass such sweeping legislation.

FIGHTING FOR CHANGE

New York

We currently have legislative support for HALT (Humane Alternatives to Longterm) Solitary Confinement Act, which would greatly improve conditions of confinement.  Despite having support across the aisles, the governor has repeatedly blocked attempts–behind the scenes and publicly- to bring the bill to vote.  

FIGHTING FOR CHANGE

NEBRASKA

Our campaign partners, the ACLU of Nebraska, introduced bold legislation to transform the way solitary is used in the state.  The bill would limit confinement to 15 days or less, ban its use on vulnerable populations, and create transparency in reporting.

BOLD MOVES

VIRGINIA

Our campaign partners, The Virginia Coalition Against Solitary Confinement, has introduced bold and sweeping legislation that would ban solitary confinement state-wide, other than when necessary for medical or mental healthcare.  

A SOLITARY CAMPAIGN

Unlock the Box is the national campaign to end long-term solitary confinement in the United States and to come into complete compliance with the UN’s Mandela Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners by 2031.  

We accomplish our mission working simultaneously on local and national levels with survivors, advocates, legislators, and community organizations dedicated to ending state-sponsored torture.    Unlock The Box and it’s partners are changing the national conversation, demanding lawmakers adhere to the suggestions laid out by the world’s leader on Human Rights, the United Nations. 

Unlock the Box compiles research and educational materials to spread awareness about this state-sponsored torture and to inspire people like you to fight for meaningful change to our criminal justice system. 

UNLOCK THE BOX

IS SOLITARY REALLY TORTURE?

The world’s foremost voice on Human Rights, the United Nations, says YES! The effects of solitary are well documented and research shows that those who experience solitary more often than not experience psychosis and become acutely suicidal.

it’s like being

Buried
Alive

solitary: The physical effects

Most frequent questions and answers

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0

Right now, there are between 88,000 and 100,000 inmates in solitary confinement in the United States. 

0 %

Survivors of solitary confinement are 78% more likely to commit suicide within a year after their release. 

0 %

Over a third of inmates subjected to solitary confinement become psychotic and/or acutely suicidal within the first 15 days. 

THE MANDELA RULES

In no circumstances may restrictions or disciplinary sanctions amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The following practices, in particular, shall be prohibited:

(a)  Indefinite solitary confinement;
(b)  Prolonged solitary confinement;
(c)  Placement of a prisoner in a dark or constantly lit cell;
(d)  Corporal punishment or the reduction of a prisoner’s diet or drinking water;

(e) Collective punishment.

Disciplinary sanctions or restrictive measures shall not include the prohibition of family contact. The means of family contact may only be restricted for a limited time period and as strictly required for the maintenance of security and order.

For the purpose of these rules, solitary confinement shall refer to the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.

Prolonged solitary confinement shall refer to solitary confinement for a time period in excess of 15 consecutive days.

1. Solitary confinement shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review, and only pursuant to the authorization by a competent authority. It shall not be imposed by virtue of a prisoner’s sentence.

2. The imposition of solitary confinement should be prohibited in the case of prisoners with mental or physical disabilities when their conditions would be exacerbated by such measures. The prohibition of the use of solitary confinement and similar measures in cases involving women and children, as referred to in other United Nations standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice,28 continues to apply. 

Prolonged solitary confinement shall refer to solitary confinement for a time period in excess of 15 consecutive days.

THE MANDELA RULES

The United Nations is urging the United States to comply with The Mandela Rules for the Humane Treatment of Prisoners. Rules 43, 44, and 45 of the Mandela Rules specifically speak to solitary confinement.  

In no circumstances may restrictions or disciplinary sanctions amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The following practices, in particular, shall be prohibited:

(a)  Indefinite solitary confinement;
(b)  Prolonged solitary confinement;
(c)  Placement of a prisoner in a dark or constantly lit cell;
(d)  Corporal punishment or the reduction of a prisoner’s diet or drinking water;

(e) Collective punishment.

Disciplinary sanctions or restrictive measures shall not include the prohibition of family contact. The means of family contact may only be restricted for a limited time period and as strictly required for the maintenance of security and order.

For the purpose of these rules, solitary confinement shall refer to the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.

Prolonged solitary confinement shall refer to solitary confinement for a time period in excess of 15 consecutive days.

1. Solitary confinement shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review, and only pursuant to the authorization by a competent authority. It shall not be imposed by virtue of a prisoner’s sentence.

2. The imposition of solitary confinement should be prohibited in the case of prisoners with mental or physical disabilities when their conditions would be exacerbated by such measures. The prohibition of the use of solitary confinement and similar measures in cases involving women and children, as referred to in other United Nations standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice,28 continues to apply. 

Prolonged solitary confinement shall refer to solitary confinement for a time period in excess of 15 consecutive days.

the Mandela Rules

The United Nations is urging the United States to comply with The Mandela Rules for the Humane Treatment of Prisoners. Rules 43, 44, and 45 of the Mandela Rules specifically speak to solitary confinement.

In no circumstances may restrictions or disciplinary sanctions amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The following practices, in particular, shall be prohibited:

(a)  Indefinite solitary confinement;
(b)  Prolonged solitary confinement;
(c)  Placement of a prisoner in a dark or constantly lit cell;
(d)  Corporal punishment or the reduction of a prisoner’s diet or drinking water;

(e) Collective punishment.

Disciplinary sanctions or restrictive measures shall not include the prohibition of family contact. The means of family contact may only be restricted for a limited time period and as strictly required for the maintenance of security and order.

For the purpose of these rules, solitary confinement shall refer to the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.

Prolonged solitary confinement shall refer to solitary confinement for a time period in excess of 15 consecutive days.

1. Solitary confinement shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review, and only pursuant to the authorization by a competent authority. It shall not be imposed by virtue of a prisoner’s sentence.

2. The imposition of solitary confinement should be prohibited in the case of prisoners with mental or physical disabilities when their conditions would be exacerbated by such measures. The prohibition of the use of solitary confinement and similar measures in cases involving women and children, as referred to in other United Nations standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice,28 continues to apply. 

Prolonged solitary confinement shall refer to solitary confinement for a time period in excess of 15 consecutive days.

TIME'S UP FOR SOLITARY

The United States has been complicit in allowing state-sponsored torture for far too long.  The time for solitary is up and Unlock The Box is employing a bold strategy to eradicate the use of long-term solitary confinement in the United States over the next ten years.  

Importantly, we are also demanding that all forms of solitary confinement are prohibited for minors, pregnant women and new mothers, the elderly, and those living with mental illness.  

These changes would put the United States in full compliance with the United Nation’s mandate for humane treatment of prisoners, also known as The Mandela Rules.

Play Video

the Mandela Rules

A ROADMAP TO ENDING SOLITARY

The United Nations is urging the United States to comply with The Mandela Rules for the Humane Treatment of Prisoners. It is important to note that they function as minimum, not gold, standards; the aim is to go beyond them in upholding human rights and dignities. Although they include provisions for the humane practice of solitary confinement in the short term, the intention is to narrow and perhaps even eliminate its use except when absolutely necessary.

Play Video

the Mandela Rules

A ROADMAP TO ENDING SOLITARY

The United Nations is urging the United States to comply with The Mandela Rules for the Humane Treatment of Prisoners. It is important to note that they function as minimum, not gold, standards; the aim is to go beyond them in upholding human rights and dignities. Although they include provisions for the humane practice of solitary confinement in the short term, the intention is to narrow and perhaps even eliminate its use except when absolutely necessary.

Play Video

LEADERSHIP

Our steering committee is comprised of members from partner organizations across the nation. Partnering with these impactful groups helps us stay informed to the unique challenges of each state and population, while allowing us to guide meaningful policy change at a national level. 

the Mandela Rules

A ROADMAP TO ENDING SOLITARY

The United Nations is urging the United States to comply with The Mandela Rules for the Humane Treatment of Prisoners. It is important to note that they function as minimum, not gold, standards; the aim is to go beyond them in upholding human rights and dignities. Although they include provisions for the humane practice of solitary confinement in the short term, the intention is to narrow and perhaps even eliminate its use except when absolutely necessary.

Play Video

change in
progress

MAKING HISTORY

New Jersey

Our partner, the New Jersey Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement won passage of the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act– -effectively outlawing solitary confinement in New Jersey.  They made history as the first state to pass such sweeping legislation

ABOUT-2

SOLITARY BY THE NUMBERS

Think you know solitary?  You might be surprised what the statistics and research actually tells us. 

The numbers below help us understand why solitary confinement is defined as torture. We know that the effects are long-term, often irreversible, and in many cases, fatal.  We also know that the United States is alone in its widespread use of solitary confinement as punishment.  

Explore the numbers on our Facts & Figures page to see what research says about the long term effects and ineffectiveness of the practice.

DON’T FALL FOR MISINFORMATION ABOUT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT. DOWNLOAD OUR TOOLKIT TO STAY INFORMED

END TORTURE NOW

SIGn THE
PETITION

A ROADMAP FOR CHANGE

51%.  That’s the number that drives us.  A central goal of our campaign is creating public and legislative “tipping” points: ensuring that 51% of the public agrees with banning solitary and that over half our states pass legislation that bans the practice.   Research shows that once this goal is reached, many more states will follow suit.  We won’t stop until all 50 US states have banned the use of solitary confinement. 

Conversation

Facilitating and steering the national conversation surrounding solitary confinement and its alternatives is key to creating an informed public and a reformed prison system. 

Minors

Solitary confinement has lasting psychological effects on the brain, particularly on the undeveloped brains of minors.  Our first step is prohibiting the use of solitary confinement for anyone under the age of 21

legislation

Passing legislation that addresses the use of solitary confinement it as the forefront of our strategy.  We must ensure there are national standards that can be applied at the state level.

the vulnerable

Ensuring that solitary confinement is not used on our most vulnerable populations such as the mentally ill, elderly, LGBTQ, and pregnant women.


Mobilization

Policy is personal.  Alongside passing legislation, we are mobilizing survivors, advocates, prison guards, and other stakeholders to speak out, be heard, and be a part of the anti-solitary revolution. 

15 DAYS OR LESS

Ensuring the federal government lays out national standards, based on the UN’s Mandela Rules, so that every state can legislate within humane and ethical standards.

 

UNLOCK THE BOX

EDUCATE YOURSELF

Below are the research sources we’ve used to inform our campaign and website.  It’s not just a bunch of citations; it’s a great reading list and place to get started in learning about solitary confinement.  Feel free to click on the links to individual sources, download as a reading list, or download a .zip file with all of the reports and articles we are legally able to share.  

A
better grasp

END
TORTURE  SOLITARY
NOW

Solitary confinement is torture

END TORTURE  SOLITARY NOW

Solitary confinement is torture

NRCAT PETITION

Recognizing that prolonged solitary confinement can cause serious harm to prisoners, it has long been considered a form of torture. As a person of faith, I oppose the use of prolonged solitary confinement.

Experts estimate that tens of thousands of prisoners in the U.S. criminal justice system are currently being held in solitary confinement. The vast majority of these inmates are detained in state prison facilities. Prisoners held in solitary confinement are often detained in a cell by themselves for 23 hours a day. Some prisoners are kept in these conditions for months, years, or even decades. Medical experts have stated that prisoners held in isolation for extended periods experience symptoms akin to delirium, and the impact on mentally ill prisoners is especially damaging. Alarmingly, these prisoners are sometimes released from solitary confinement units directly to their communities when they complete their prison sentence.

We need to invest in humane alternatives that address the mental health needs of prisoners in a way that effectively contributes both to their rehabilitation and to their successful transition back into society. Because holding prisoners in solitary confinement units is significantly more expensive than keeping them in the general prison population, instituting humane alternatives makes sense, both financially and morally.

We must end the use of prolonged solitary confinement in all 50 states and the federal prison system. It is costly, inhumane and ineffective; it harms prisoners and our communities. I call upon state legislators and departments of corrections to begin now to take steps to end prolonged solitary confinement.

She was raped by a prison guard.

When authorities found out she was pregnant, they threw her in solitary confinement- -with no mattress.  Then, they tried to force her to abort her child against her will. 

Join Laura's fight to end solitary

Thank You for Signing.

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