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Since the 1980s, correctional facilities have used segregation as a management tool and form of punishment for prisoners. Prisons use segregation to punish prisoners that violate correction facilities’ rules and confiscate any inmates they believe pose a risk or threat to the general prison population (Browne, 2011: 46). According to Shalev (2017: 27), solitary confinement or segregation in prisons is the social or physical isolation of a convict in a single prison cell for several hours in a day, with most of their time spent in a cage. Correctional facilities across the world use segregation in a bid to prevent or punish inmates who misbehave while serving their prison terms. However, scholars and legislators have raised issues regarding segregation as a method of castigation and whether it genuinely serves the humane purpose of correcting prisoners that behave inappropriately. Segregation as a formula of punishment is unnecessary since it violates the prisoners’ human rights, affects their mental and physical well-being, and deters them from meaningful human social interaction.

History of segregation as a method of punishment

The use of segregation dates back to the early 1800s and has continued to gain popularity among penitentiaries in the UK, the US, and the world. Harris (2015: 5) outlines that segregation, according to international standards, was introduced as the absolute last resort as a form of punishment for prisoners that broke the rules and guidelines employed in correctional facilities. However, this is not the case since Immigration Removal Centers in the UK, and other countries use segregation, even though the prisoners’ inappropriate behavior was not severe. In the United States, the use of segregation started in the late 1700s, particularly in Pennsylvania (Davis, 2003: 46), with the philosophy that isolated prisoners would rehabilitate themselves, repent, and refrain from adopting the same behavior that led to their segregation in the first place (Browne, 2011: 46). The use of segregation to reprove inmates continued to gain popularity as the years continued, and it is held that the figure of segregated prisoners continues to increase.

According to Shames et al. (2015: 6), about five to eight percent of inmates in correctional facilities in the US and UK are segregated daily, indicating that correctional facilities continue to adopt this particular practice. For instance, the UK adopted the Close Supervision Centers (CSC) that maintain discipline in prisons and ensure the safety of inmates and correctional officers through segregating convicts that violate prisons’ rules and regulations. The Eastern State Penitentiary, built-in 1829, was the foremost correctional facility to adopt segregation as a form of punishment. The leaders, at the time, believed that if an inmate, who acted up, was segregated in a small room and had no destructions other than the Bible, would devote time in prayer, quiet scrutiny, and self-examination. The segregated time would allow them to reflect on their behavior, and through the guidance of the Bible, rehabilitate themselves and adopt positive or acceptable behavior (Harris, 2015: 13).

Types of Segregation

According to (Browne 2011: 47), segregation or solitary confinement is utilized by minimum, medium, and maximum prisons, but the restrictions vary depending on the country the correctional facilities are situated. There are different types of segregations as forms of punishment, including disciplinary, administrative, and temporary. Disciplinary segregation entails a prisoner’s isolation because of rules violations within the correctional facility. It is the most common form of segregation, aiming at punishing the inmate for inappropriate behavior such as possession of contraband or assault on another inmate. Administrative segregation entails the segregation of prisoners who may be a threat to correctional officers and other inmates. Lastly, is temporary segregation which involves segregating an inmate when an incident involving them is being investigated, enabling correctional officers to conduct their investigation efficiently (Shames et al., 2015: 4). However, the issue of segregation as a method of punishment continues to raise a lot of debates, with most accepting that it causes both physical and mental health issues to inmates.

Reasons why segregation is not a necessary as a form of punishment

Since its inception, solitary confinement as a formula for punishment has remained a vital component of the UK and American disciplinary systems in correctional facilities (Labrecque, 2015: 10). Although criminal justice systems incorporated segregation to punish and rehabilitate inmates, recent studies outline this belief is not valid. On the contrary, inmates that were isolated and then later released showed higher probabilities of recidivism than those who were part of the overall prison population (Woo et al., 2020: 5). Therefore, these studies refute the notion that inmates will not engage in crimes if severely punished or segregated. Segregated inmates have a higher probability of engaging in similar crimes because the isolation deters them from correctional programs, such as visitations, vocational and educational programs, and counseling, that play a big part in positively affecting their behaviors (Woo et al., 2020: 4). Therefore, although inmates that engage in inappropriate behavior require punishment, segregation does not serve the purpose of rehabilitating them. The objective of correctional facilities is to punish and rehabilitate offenders, and thus, studies indeed indicate that segregation in these facilities does not serve this particular purpose.

Additionally, many believe that segregation guarantees control, order, and safety within correctional facilities, but this is not the case. Recent studies indicated no correlation exists between segregation and increased or decreased levels of prisoner-to-prisoner assaults and violence (Shames et al., 2015: 18). Therefore, it is not definite to state that segregation as a system of punishment does reduce occurrences of assaults or violence in correctional facilities. For instance, (Shames et al. (2015: 18) outlines that Colorado, in the United States, reduced utilizing segregation to discipline inmates in its correctional facilities by about eighty-five percent and recorded the lowest number of cases of inappropriate behaviors by inmates on correctional officers and other inmates. Thus, this explains that the notion of segregation helping reduce instances of violence and assaults in correctional facilities is not valid. Therefore, prisons need to do away with this particular practice.

Segregation as a form of punishment also affects the mental well-being of inmates. As stated earlier, segregation entails completely isolating an ill-behaved inmate from any social interaction. According to Woo et al. (2020: 4), segregation, which entails isolating an inmate and exposing them to deprived surroundings, does not enhance safety and security in prisons but rather result in causing mental health problems to convicts. Therefore, segregation primarily impacts inmates who have a pre-existing mental condition since being isolated from other people for many hours on a daily basis tends to affect their mental well-being. Martel (2001: 203) indicates that about twenty-five percent of women prisoners segregated engage in self-mutilation mainly because of the subhuman conditions in these segregation cells. Also, most of them come out of these segregated cells with mental problems because the adverse conditions in these compartments make them feel like not humans, thus affecting their will and motivation to live.

Segregation as a form of reprimand does more harm than good to inmates, and thus, it affects its primary purpose, which is to punish and, most importantly, rehabilitate offenders. Shames et al. (2015: 17) indicate that segregation results in several adverse mental outcomes, including increased nervousness and anxiety, hallucinations, chronic and severe depression, nightmares, sleeping problems, and difficulties with memory, concentration, and thinking. These symptoms begin to occur when an inmate is segregated for about seven days, indicating that the longer an inmate is segregated, the higher their mental well-being is affected. In addition, these psychological effects make it difficult for the segregated inmate to adjust to life back in the general prison population or even the society when released (Shames et al., 2015: 17). Since segregation affects the ERG activity of an inmate, it also negatively impacts their cognitive process. Therefore, the segregated inmate may have a higher chance of harming other inmates or correctional officers once released compared to before they were segregated.

Shames et al. (2015: 17) further indicate that about a third of inmates who leave segregated cells in correctional facilities, after being isolated for several days, record an occurrence of mental illness. It is mainly caused by the adverse effects caused by segregation and the lack of social interaction. The conditions in these cells can aggravate a pre-existing mental illness or even cause a reoccurrence. For instance, an inmate who suffers from depression may become extremely depressed if sent into isolation because of inappropriate behavior while imprisoned. Additionally, convicts with suicidal tendencies have a higher probability of committing suicide if sent into isolation. This theory explains why recent studies indicate that cases of self-harm and suicides are higher for segregated inmates in comparison to those in the prison populace (Shames et al., 2015: 17). Therefore, it is indeed true that segregation affects the mental well-being of inmates.

Segregation also affects the well-being of children and young adults in correctional facilities. Children and young adults are still at the age of growing socially, mentally, and physically and are, therefore, very vulnerable to adverse effects caused by segregation (Shalev, 2017: 30). Therefore, using segregation to punish juveniles in various prisons tends to cause more harm than good. According to Shalev (2017: 30), younger adults and children in prison have a higher prevalence of mental illness than older adults, with about ninety-five percent of them having recorded at least one mental problem. This discovery simply means that young adults are eighteen times more likely to suffer from a mental problem after facing segregation for several days in comparison to adult prisoners (Shalev, 2017: 30). England and Wales are among countries that commonly use segregation to punish juvenile offenders. Studies indicate that most young inmates recorded mental health problems after being segregated at a point while incarcerated (Shalev, 2017: 30).. Thus, this demonstrates that using segregation to reprimand prisoners causes adverse health effects.

Segregation as a form of punishing inmates who misbehave also affects their interaction with other people. Since segregation involves deterring the inmate from social interaction for several days, it may affect how they relate with others. Woo et al. (2020: 4) suggest that the use of segregation and solitary confinement could backfire and instead cause the downfall of the relationship between the inmate and family members, correctional officers, and other inmates. In most countries, segregation in correctional facilities involves prohibiting the inmate from social interaction and visits from family members, which may last for even a year, mainly depending on the severity of the inmate’s bad behavior (Browne et al., 2011: 47). Such a policy affects their social well-being, and after being released, they may find it difficult to interact and communicate with other people. Hence, even though correctional facilities have used segregation for several years to punish inmates who break prison rules and guidelines, its adverse effects on causing mental illness indicate that penitentiaries should refrain from using this particular practice.

Recent research further indicates that segregation or solitary confinement as a procedure of reprimand also affects pre-trial detainees (Shalev, 2017: 30). Pre-trial detainees are different from other inmates since their cases are still pending and can therefore be found guilty or innocent. Consequently, they tend to be more vulnerable than other inmates, and segregating them to punish them usually worsens their vulnerability. Current research indicates that in the United Kingdom, about fifty-four percent of prison suicides involved pre-trial detainees sent to isolation as a form of punishment, with most cases occurring for those taken to solitary confinement for the first time (Shalev, 2017: 30). Additionally, another research in Denmark indicated that pre-trial detainees taken to isolation because of inappropriate behavior were twenty times more likely to come out of isolation due to a psychiatric or mental problem in comparison to ordinary inmates (Shalev, 2017: 30). These situations mainly occur because the inmate has not spent enough time in correctional facilities, and therefore, isolating them and deterring them from social interaction adversely affects them.

Initially, correctional facilities implemented segregation as a method of castigation as a last resort for unfitting behaviors adopted by inmates. However, studies show this has not been the case, and correctional officers use segregation to punish prisoners even for the simplest mistake. Shames et al. (2015: 14) outline that even though there are various sanctions that correctional officers may use to discipline unruly convicts, the reality is that these officers use segregation as the first response to an inmate’s bad behavior. So, it means that correctional officers are exploiting the use of segregation to punish prisoners, supporting the notion that the criminal justice system should ban the use of this particular practice. Secondly, unruly inmates should only be segregated for a few hours, but this is not the case with most correctional facilities in the UK, the US, and other parts of the world. Correctional officers segregate prisoners for more extended periods, such as eleven or even twenty-three months (Shames et al., 2015: 15). Therefore, since prison officers exploit the use of segregation, correctional facilities should abolish its use.

Additionally, although segregation is supposed to be applied equally for both men’s and women’s prisons, unfortunately, this is not the case. Martel (2001: 204) indicates that women penitentiaries segregate prisoners for unruly behaviors which male prisoners cannot face. The author further suggests that correctional facilities segregate female prisoners for behaviors such as tattooing, swearing, or mouthing off in Canada, which is not the case with male prisoners. Therefore, it clearly shows that segregation as a means to reprimand inmates is indeed abused, indicating criminal justice systems should ban its utilization. Additionally, segregation is also more abusive in female prisons than in male penitentiaries (Martel, 2001: 204). Female prisons report more abusive cases for segregated inmates than male prisons, supporting the notion that prisons should abandon this exercise. Also, since correctional officers know prisoners are afraid of segregation, they threaten and manipulate them to adhere to their commands. Thus, it shows using segregation punish prisoners is not effective.

Woo et al. (2020: 13-14) conducted a study and identified that social support, such as visits by relatives, participation in rehabilitation programs, and constant communication with other inmates, significantly reduced, with about nineteen percent, the possibility of an inmate committing or engaging in violent or bad behavior. The authors further concluded that using remunerative controls, such as work assignments and communication, was more effective in enhancing prisoners to conform to prisons’ rules and regulations other than the use of segregation (Woo et al., 2020: 14). Therefore, this indicates that social support, interaction, and communication with inmates and relatives positively impacts the behaviors of inmates, and thus, using segregation as a way to punish and deter inmates from engaging in future unruly or destructive behavior does not guarantee change of behavior. Therefore, the research findings support the notion that segregation is not a necessary form of punishment.

Arguments for those supporting using segregation to punish prisoners

Even though it is evident that segregation is not an effective form of punishment, there are still proponents who support its use, mainly correctional officers and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system. The promoters for its use base their argument on deterrence theory. According to Woo et al. (2020: 3), deterrence theory suggests that offenders will not participate in unruly or bad behavior while incarcerated if the criminal justice system severely and swiftly reprimands them. Therefore, if an inmate is segregated for some time because of bad behavior, they will not engage in similar behavior once released (Woo et al., 2020: 3). Correctional officers argue that the existence of segregation to punish inmates who engage in unruly behavior enables them to control the high number of inmates in correctional facilities. The officers further believe that the adverse conditions in the segregated cells strike fear in inmates, and thus, those who visit it tend to refrain from engaging in rowdy behavior.

Supporters of the use of segregation further state that the public knowledge and information passed by those who visit segregated cells to other inmates deters others from engaging in destructive behavior to avoid a similar fate (Woo et al., 2020: 3). Additionally, the swiftness to which an unruly inmate is sentenced to segregation for bad behavior tends to deter them from further violations while incarcerated, thus reducing recidivism when they are sent back to society (Woo et al., 2020: 3). It explains why correctional facilities still use this particular practice even after indications that segregation causes physical and psychological harm to prisoners. Therefore, even though proponents of the use of segregation to punish offenders believe it is effective, the continued increase of unruly and disobedient inmates in correctional facilities shows that this practice is not adequate. Thus, prisons should implement other ways of punishing offenders.

Recommendations for segregation as a procedure of punishment

Although entirely banning segregation to punish unruly or badly-behaved prisoners may make it difficult for correctional officers to control and manage huge prison populations, prisons can adopt several recommendations to improve its use. One primary recommendation is to use other sanctions to punish offenders, particularly those with minor mistakes. Shames et al. (2015: 14) indicates that countries such as Germany and the Netherlands use sanctions such as constraint on leisure activities or movement, reprimands, and limitations on property and money, to punish offenders. Additionally, these two countries rarely use segregation, with a German prison reported to have used segregation to punish inmates three times in 2012 (Shames et al., 2015: 14). Also, a German juvenile correctional facility reported to have used segregation to punish inmates twice between 2008 and 2012, and these two cases only took a few hours in the segregated cells (Shames et al., 2015: 14). Therefore, it means correctional officers can manage and punish inmates’ behaviors without necessarily using segregation as the means to do it.

Moreover, correctional facilities should only utilize segregation to punish inmates when absolutely necessary and use it as a last resort when other sanctions seem not to work (Shalev, 2017: 33). Also, a competent body or authority should authorize the decision to send an inmate to segregation to guarantee transparency and ensure due process is followed. Most correctional officers tend to send inmates at will to segregation, which is an abuse of the power given to them. Therefore, if all cases of prisoners being sent to segregated cells involve paperwork, it will guarantee no inmate is abused. The paperwork will contain the inmate’s name, the reason for sending them to segregated cells, and how many hours, and not days, they will stay in these cells. Shalev (2017: 33) further suggests that correctional facilities take segregation cases seriously and be subjected to substantive, regular, and independent review. It will guarantee that the proper measures are adopted to punish badly-behaved inmates when using segregation.

Additionally, correctional facilities should improve the conditions of segregated cells. The main criticism of segregation as a procedure of punishing offenders is the segregated cells’ awful and poor conditions. Shalev (2017: 33) suggests that correctional facilities should ensure segregated cells have beds, toilets, and windows and that segregated inmates are offered vocational, recreational, and educational programs. Since one major issue is the total isolation of segregated inmates, one recommendation would be to allow inmates to possess books, magazines, or craft materials in the segregated cells to reduce stress and anxiety (Shalev, 2017: 33). Additionally, prisons should allow segregated inmates to have some social and meaningful human contact from time to time. Correctional officers should communicate with segregated inmates to enable them to interact and reduce cases of depression, anxiety, or mental health problems (Shalev, 2017: 33). Therefore, improving conditions of segregated cells and allowing inmates to have some human interaction will significantly reduce the adverse effects of segregation.

Lastly, correctional facilities should implement rehabilitative programs to help segregated inmates transition back to the prison populace (Browne et al., 2011: 48). Since segregated inmates are secluded from the overall prison population, they find it challenging to transition back, and thus, rehabilitative programs will help. These programs should emphasize explaining to the inmate reasons behind their segregation and educate them on ways to behave appropriately while incarcerated. According to Woo et al. (2020: 14), establishing instrumental and social supports, like rehabilitative programs or clinical interventions, may enhance an offender’s willingness to recognize and respect the validity of authority figures in correctional facilities. Therefore, these programs will impact inmates with knowledge on the importance of behaving ethically and following the guidance of correctional facilities. These recommendations indicate that segregation is not a necessary condition of punishment.


The issue of whether segregation is a necessary condition of punishment has been present for several years, with both opponents and proponents supporting their stance. However, it is evident that using segregation to punish inmates entails more adverse effects than positive ones. The use of segregation results in mental health issues for inmates because of lack of social contact and exposure to inhumane conditions in these segregated cells. In addition, there is still no evidence to support that the use of segregation minimizes unruly behavior in prisons. Even though it is vital to punish inmates who behave inappropriately while incarcerated, correctional officers can use other sanctions to punish them. The officers should only use segregation for severe cases and as a last resort. Therefore, correctional facilities in the UK, the US, and other countries should make changes regarding using segregation as the primary method of punishment.


Browne, A., Cambier, A. and Agha, S., 2011. Prisons within prisons: The use of segregation in the United States, pp. 46-49. https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/media/publications/vera_institute_federal_sentencing_reporter_the_use_of_segregation_in_the_us_2011.pdf

Davis, A. (2003) Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press. https://www.feministes-radicales.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Angela-Davis-Are_Prisons_Obsolete.pdf

Frost, N.A. and Monteiro, C.E., 2016. Administrative segregation in US prisons. Restrictive housing in the US: Issues, challenges, and future directions, pp.1-48. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/249749.pdf

Haney, C., 2003. The psychological impact of incarceration: Implications for post-prison adjustment. Prisoners once removed: The impact of incarceration and reentry on children, families, and communities33, p.66. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/60676/410624-The-Psychological-Impact-of-Incarceration.PDF

Harris, K., 2015. ‘A Secret Punishment’: The Misuse of Segregation in Immigration Detention. Medical Justice, October, pp 1-59. http://www.medicaljustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/MJ_Segregation_report_WEB_version_04_11_15-1.pdf

Labrecque, R.M., 2015. The effect of solitary confinement on institutional misconduct: A longitudinal evaluation. The University of Cincinnati, pp. 1-198. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/249013.pdf

Martel, J., 2001. Telling the story: A study in the segregation of women prisoners. Social Justice28(1 (83), pp.196-215. http://safealternativestosegregation.vera.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Telling-the-Story-A-Study-in-the-Segregation-of-Women-Prisoners.pdf

Shames, A., Wilcox, J., & Subramanian, R. 2015. Solitary Confinement: Common Misconceptions and Emerging Safe Alternatives, 1–36. https://www.vera.org/downloads/publications/solitary-confinement-misconceptions-safe-alternatives-report_1.pdf

Shalev, S., 2017. Solitary confinement as a prison health issue. https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/249194/Prisons-and-Health%2C-5-Solitary-confinement-as-a-prison-health-issue.pdf

Woo, Y., Drapela, L., Campagna, M., Stohr, M.K., Hamilton, Z.K., Mei, X. and Tollefsbol, E.T., 2020. Disciplinary segregation’s effects on inmate behavior: Institutional and community outcomes. Criminal Justice Policy Review31(7), pp.1036-1058. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334609842_Disciplinary_Segregation’s_Effects_on_Inmate_Behavior_Institutional_and_Community_Outcomes

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