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Managing Prisons Through Extended Solitary Confinement: A Necessary Approach or a Signal of Prison System Failure?

NCJ Number
International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology Volume: Online Dated: 2021 Pages: 1-23
Date Published
23 pages

This paper presents the authors’ investigation of whether the emergence of extended solitary confinement may be viewed as a signal of prison system failure; it lays out their research methodology, an analysis of results, and implications for future research and policymaking.


In contemporary American corrections, extended solitary confinement (ESM) as a management tool has emerged as a strategy for avowedly controlling the most violent individuals and, in so doing, creating a safer prison system. The authors theorize that the emergence of this unique form of housing may also be viewed as a signal of prison system failure. To advance this argument, the authors identify how different theoretical perspectives can be used to anticipate the effects of ESM on prison system violence and order and then investigate the plausibility of this account by grounding it in analysis of qualitative data from a study of one state’s prison system. The analysis suggests theoretical and empirical warrant for both views of ESM—as an effective tool and as a symptom of system failure. The authors also discuss the implications of the study research and policy. Publisher Abstract Provided

Date Published: January 1, 2021