New Books Network

Long-term solitary confinement meets the legal definition of torture, and yet solitary confinement is used in every state in the United States. People are...

Long-term solitary confinement meets the legal definition of torture, and yet solitary confinement is used in every state in the United States. People are placed in solitary confinement for a variety of reasons, and long-term solitary confinement can have a harmful effect on mental and physical health. Reform is happening, but the use of solitary confinement is still a problem in the US.

Taylor Pendergrass, a lawyer who works on criminal justice reform for the ACLU, has spent over a decade collecting stories of people who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. Along with Mateo Hoke, he has co-edited the book Six by Ten: Stories from Solitary (Haymarket, 2018). In addition to a primer and brief history of solitary confinement, the book consists of personal history narratives. The stories are by people who have spent time in solitary confinement, family members, and people who have worked in prison systems. Voices of people who are, or have been, in solitary confinement are rare to hear, because they oppressed and difficult to access. The stories in this book are powerful, nuanced, and complex, and give readers a better understanding of the impact of solitary confinement on people’s lives.

In this interview, Pendergrass describes the conditions and psychological impact of solitary both during and after incarceration. He also discusses the history and rational behind solitary confinement in the US, progress toward criminal justice reform, and ways people can help.

Resources mentioned in this interview:

-NY Times articles about solitary confinement in Colorado by Rick Raemisch here and here.

-Pen Pal program with people in solitary confinement here.

-Article by Craig Haney, Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz, an overview of research on the psychological impact of solitary confinement here.


Debbie Sorensen, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist practicing in Denver, Colorado and a co-host of the podcast Psychologists Off The Clock.