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About 8% Of Federal Inmates Remain In Solitary Confinement

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) use of restrictive housing. GAO concluded that the BOP continues to house a high number of prisoners in Special Housing Units (SHU) where individuals are isolated in cells for up to 23 hours per day. As of October 2023, BOP continued to house about 8% of its population (approximately 12,000 people in these settings, Forbes reports. A Department of Justice report in February 2023 detailed the BOP’s failure to reduce the number of people in SHUs. The primary purpose of such units is for discipline. Prisoners are typically placed on disciplinary segregation status for a determinate term—akin to a prison sentence in a criminal proceeding—and then either released back to the general population or transferred to another facility.


The GAO concluded that while the BOP was previously called out for the practice of SHU placement of prisoners, little has changed. BOP has not fully implemented 54 of the 87 recommendations from` two prior studies on improving restrictive housing practices. BOP has made slow progress in part by not assigning responsibility for implementation to appropriate officials and not establishing time frames for completion. One challenge for BOP is that SHU is an effective means of securing the safety of prisoners who feel unsafe in general population. However, that security comes at a price of isolation from family (limited phone calls and visits) while in SHU. Some placements in SHU for such prisoners can last weeks or months. BOP Director Colette Peters responded to GAO’s report by stating that the agency recognizes that restrictive housing is not an effective deterrent and can increase future recidivism. She said a plan to reduce disciplinary segregation should be published for comment in the near future.

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