Solitary confinement


(Photo courtesy: Billy X. Jennings’ Black Panther Party archival collection)

The Medill Justice Project is examining the widespread use of solitary confinement, when inmates spend nearly 24 hours a day in prison cells exposed to limited human contact. In the United States, an estimated 25,000 to 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement. The estimate is rough partly because solitary goes by many names, depending on the prison, which affects the count. The hole. Segregation. Extended lockdown. Administrative maximum. Secure housing unit. Communication management unit.

The Medill Justice Project began researching this national criminal justice issue in June 2014 by looking into the case of Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore, a Louisiana State Penitentiary prisoner pictured above who has been held in solitary confinement for 35 years.

If you have information about solitary confinement or have information about a solitary confinement case, please contact us at, or 847-491-5840.

Solitary confinement news:

Jan. 26, 2016: Obama Bans Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Prisons (from the Washington Post)

Solitary confinement stories from The Medill Justice Project:

July 19, 2014: Louisiana Warden Considers End to Inmate’s Solitary Confinement After More Than Three Decades

  • Read the story on The Lens’ website here.
  • Read the story on The Advocate’s website here.
  • Read Time’s story on MJP’s interview here.

Aug. 4, 2014: No Word From Warden Cain of Angola About Prisoner’s Fate

Aug. 26, 2014: Panther Proof: Angola Warden Says Black Panther Party Advocates Violence and Racism but Is It True?

Aug. 26, 2014: Photo Essay: Panther Tracks

Aug. 28, 2014: In the Hole: Solitary Confinement Comes Under Greater Scrutiny in the United States

  • Read the story on The Lens’ website here.

Dec. 8, 2014: Confession or Coercion?: The Medill Justice Project Unearths New Information Never Raised at Trial That Calls Into Question the Conviction of Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore Who Has Been Held in Solitary Confinement for 35 Years


April 28, 2016: Inmate Released From Solitary Confinement After About 36 Years, MJP Confirms 

May 11, 2016: Alone No More: After over three decades in isolation, inmate Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore is acclimating to his new life in the general prison population

The following map uses data collected in 2005, the most recent information available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics through the Census of State and Federal Adult Correctional Facilities, and shows the number of U.S. inmates reported in restricted housing. Ann Carson, a statistician at the Bureau of Justice Statistics, said the interpretation of restricted population unit is left up to prisons and other correctional institutions. Carson also said participation in the data collection is optional; 48.5 percent of those surveyed responded.

Data visualization by Anna Zambelli/The Medill Justice Project

Most European countries and a number of Asian countries impose legal restrictions on the time inmates can be held in solitary confinement. Several countries allow longer time limits for adult inmates and inmates punished for more than one serious offense than they do for minors or inmates with one offense. For each country, the maximum time limit is reported. MJP is still in the process of gathering data, and information about time limits for solitary was not available for every country.

Sources: Malta Criminal Code; Reports from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture; Reports from the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control; Reports from United Nations Committee Against Torture; Reports from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; United Kingdom 1999 Prison Rules; Bangladesh Penal Code; 2009 Prison Act of Bhutan; Myanmar Penal Code; Prison Law of the People’s Republic of China; Indian Penal Code; Human Rights Watch Report; Malaysia Prison Act 1995; Maldives Penal Code; Mongolia Criminal Code; Pakistan Penal Code; Tajikistan Criminal Executive Code; United States Institute of Peace Report

Data visualization by Annabel Edwards/The Medill Justice Project