United States: does solitary confinement make inmates more likely to reoffend?

As a teenager, Adam Brulotte relished the attention he received from getting into fights at parties. When he was 18 years old, he was arrested for burglary and aggravated assault after punching a man and breaking his jaw in seven places.

Brulotte arrived in Maine State Prison in 2012 to serve a two year sentence for violating his probation.

There, he was sent to solitary confinement for starting a riot on his cell block. During the approximately four months he spent in isolation, Brulotte cut himself, flooded his cell with toilet water and pushed feces under his door. Each incident earned him more time in solitary confinement.

Once he was released, Brulotte tried to find a sense of normalcy. He started dating, got a job at a local convenience store but soon ended up back in jail for driving without a license, an assault and failing to pay court fines.

“It leaves a scar on you that you won’t forget and you can’t heal … you get flashbacks and anxiety,” he said of solitary.

Like tens of thousands of inmates who spend time in solitary confinement, Brulotte struggled to adjust to life after prison.

Researchers have extensively documented the sometimes serious psychological trauma that inmates can suffer in solitary confinement.

However, less attention has been paid to the effects of solitary confinement and recidivism — the likelihood that a former inmate will commit a new crime.

Across the nation, 68 percent of all people are rearrested within three years of leaving prison, according to studies by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Supporters of solitary confinement have speculated that the harsh conditions — which often involve spending 23 hours a day in a small cell — may deter inmates from committing more crimes in the future and lead to a lower rate of recidivism.

Data from correctional facilities in a handful of states reveal a different story. Statistics show that inmates who have spent time in solitary confinement are more likely to reoffend than those who serve their sentence in a prison’s general population.

Forty-nine percent of all inmates released from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 2006 were rearrested within three years, according to data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas. The recidivism rate for inmates who were released directly from solitary confinement that same year was significantly higher, at 61 percent.

Data from Connecticut in 2001 revealed that 66 percent of regular inmates were rearrested within three years, compared to a staggering 92 percent of inmates who were kept in solitary confinement for disciplinary problems or violent behavior.

Members of the Connecticut general assembly who commissioned the report, wrote that the high rate of recidivism among inmates who spend time in solitary confinement is “not surprising” and that the primary aim of solitary confinement was “management of the inmate’s behavior while in prison and not rehabilitation.”

These numbers, however, do not show a causal relationship between time spent in solitary confinement and the likelihood that an inmate will return to crime.

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