Nearly one in 10 black men in the United States are put in solitary confinement at least once by the time they reach age 32, and they also make up nearly half the prison population, according to a new study from Columbia University.
A group of researchers from the Columbia, led by graduate student Hannah Pullen-Blasnik, analyzed the number of prisoners put into solitary confinement between 2007 and 2018 in Pennsylvania - which they argue is representative of the larger United States due to similar prisoner demographics reported throughout the country
They found in their study published Friday that about 11 percent of black men had been placed in solitary confinement for at least one day by the time they were 32, compared to 3.4 percent of Latino men and 1.35 percent of white men.
Additionally, the authors found that 9 percent of all black men in Pennsylvania born between 1986 to 1989 had been held in solitary confinement for at least 15 consecutive days by the age of 32, and nearly one in 100 had been locked in solitary confinement for at least a full year by that age.
Solitary confinement is defined as the isolation of a prisoner in a cell for 22 or more hours a day with little to no human contact or mental stimulation. It can have damaging mental health affects, and the United Nations has banned solitary confinement of prisoners for more than 15 days.
The authors of the study, note, however, that the disparities of those placed in solitary confinement could be attributed to black men being incarcerated at a higher rate than white men in the United States.
They made up 47.8 percent of Pennsylvania's prison population at the time - despite making up only about 12 percent of the state's population, compared to 40.6 percent of white men in prison, who make up about 74 percent of the state's general population and 10.9 percent of Latino men in prison - who make up 8 percent of the population.
The authors of the study note that black men also make up a larger portion of the prison population than white and Latino men
Black men are also more likely to be placed in solitary confinement for more than 15 days than white and Latino prisoners
In Pullen-Blasnik's longitudinal study on the population prevalence of solitary confinement, she, Jessica Simes and Bruce Western found that about half of everyone incarcerated in Pennsylvania prisons between 2007 and 2018 were placed in solitary confinement at least once by the time they were 32.
They estimate that 1.5 percent of the state's 1986 to 1989 birth cohort had been incarcerated in solitary confinement for at least one day by the age of 32, but nearly 60 percent of incarcerated black men spent time in solitary confinement compared to 3.4 percent of Latino men and 1.4 percent of white men.
The risk of solitary confinement by the age of 32 for black men is more than eight times the risk for white men and Latinos are 2.5 times as likely to be put in solitary confinement, according to the study.
But, they also found that white men were more likely to be put in administrative custody for being a potential threat to other inmates or prison staff at a higher rate than black men, at 58.3 to 43.8 percent of the time.
Still, black men were more likely to be placed in disciplinary custody, for breaking prison rules, at higher rates than white prisoners, mainly for verbal threats.
Solitary confinement is defined as the isolation of a prisoner in a cell for 22 or more hours a day with little to no human contact or mental stimulation
It has become a controversial subject over the years, with many prison rights activists claiming it leads to long term psychological damage
The practice of putting prisoners into solitary confinement has become a controversial subject in recent years, with many prison rights activists claiming it does more harm than good.
They point to research showing solitary confinement can lead to anxiety and PTSD, with a 2019 study concluding those held in solitary confinement for any amount of time are 78 percent more likely to kill themselves within one year of being released from prison and are 127 percent more likely to die of an overdose in the first two weeks of their release compared to prisoners who were not put in solitary confinement.
Tamara Walsh at the University of Queensland in Australia, for example, argues solitary confinement is almost never warranted because there are more humane and effective ways to discipline prisoners.
She said prison violence could be reduced by providing structured activities, like skills training and board games; making sure inmates with mental health problems have appropriate treatment; giving them time to see their family; and providing them with ways to connect to nature.
'Even in situations where you have people who are very violent,. you can use things like restraint chairs to stop them from harming others while still allowing social engagement,' Walsh told the New Scientist.
States like New York and Colorado have now banned solitary confinement from being used for 15 consecutive days in accordance with the UN rules, and are experimenting with alternatives, New Scientist reported, with Colorado officials testing out short-term 'time out' cells.