Still Worse Than Second-Class: Solitary Confinement of Women in the United States

This report was first published in 2014. Since then, some things have changed for women in solitary confinement—but many things have not. More attention has been placed on women in prison and on solitary confinement in general, but still, little attention has been paid to the specific plight of women in solitary confinement. Although laws, court decisions, and settlement agreements have all limited the use of solitary confinement for certain populations in some jurisdictions, the use of solitary confinement is still rampant in the United States. Vulnerable populations, including pregnant people and women with mental illness, are still being placed into solitary confinement, and not enough is being done to enforce limitations on such placements.

This 2019 version of the report includes updated facts and data and new sections on girls under the age of 18 in solitary confinement, older women in solitary confinement, and immigration detention. These new sections highlight specific populations that are detained at an increasing rate and that may or do suffer special harms due to solitary confinement. For this 2019 version of the report, we also conducted interviews with survivors of solitary confinement and a practitioner. Specifically, we interviewed three women who had experienced solitary confinement themselves and one social worker who provided mental health care to women in solitary confinement. These interviews provided on the-ground, personal stories about what it is like to live in solitary confinement and a deeper understanding of the mental health impacts of this type of experience.