Brooklyn Heights

Locked in a box: The human toll of solitary confinement

Criminologist David Pitts to speak at St. Francis College Feb. 12

February 4, 2019 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Every day, from 80,000 to 100,000 people are held in solitary confinement in state and federal prisons, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

Solitary confinement means being locked for months, years or even decades alone, in a cell the size of an elevator, with as little as one hour a day for solitary exercise and showering.

Sometimes inmates in isolation have access to books, televisions or radios — sometimes they do not. Food is served through a slot in the door.

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Advocates say this condition does devastating things to inmates’ mental and physical health. Those leaving isolation have described becoming paranoid, hurting themselves and developing obsessive habits. Many are released directly back into their communities after spending months or years locked in a box.

Originally used to deal with violent prisoners, isolation is now used as a management tool and as punishment for even minor infractions. The use of solitary confinement has almost doubled since the mid-1990s, though it has begun a downward trend in New York state following reforms in 2016.

On Feb. 12 at 11:10 a.m., criminologist David Pitts, senior research associate at the Center on Sentencing & Corrections at the Vera Institute of Justice will speak on “Solitary Confinement in America: Causes, Consequences, and Alternatives” at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights.

Pitts leads Vera’s research agenda on the conditions on confinement in American prisons and jails. He studies not only the effect of solitary confinement on inmates, but its effects on correctional officers’ mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

The presentation is one of a series of St. Francis’ free, university-quality lectures. Once a week, during the fall and spring semesters, college professors speak on a range of topics, including “Tabloid Justice, She-Devils, Femme Fatales and the Amanda Knox Case,” and “Free Range Kids Laws.” For the full schedule of lectures, visit

St. Francis College, through the program Hudson Link @ St. Francis, promotes college degree completion among formerly incarcerated people.

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