Journal of Population Research

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 435–465 | Cite as

The black box within a black box: Solitary confinement practices in a subset of U.S. immigrant detention facilities

  • Caitlin PatlerEmail author
  • Jeffrey O. Sacha
  • Nicholas Branic


In September 2013, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a directive regarding the use of solitary confinement for ICE detainees. Among other provisions, the directive mandated reporting on the rationale behind decisions to place a detainee into solitary confinement, with particular emphases on placements lasting more than 14 days and for reasons related to illness and other “special vulnerabilities.” This paper analyzes administrative data from ICE, gathered via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, on the use of solitary confinement per the 2013 ICE directive. The FOIA request covers 1193 incidents of solitary confinement from the beginning of the directive (September 2013) through the date of the FOIA request (September 2016), across six facilities under the jurisdiction of two California Field Offices (Los Angeles and San Francisco). Results reveal significant differences in the use of solitary confinement by gender, mental illness status, whether the confined individual had an attorney, Field Office jurisdiction, and individual facility. In addition, we document the extensive use of solitary confinement for “protective custody” and show that this category is potentially punitive in nature. Given the limited nature of access to information on ICE detainees, this is one of the only analyses of solitary confinement in immigrant detention facilities in the United States.


Solitary confinement Immigration detention United States Immigration 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.1283 Social Sciences and HumanitiesUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Criminology, Law and Society, 2340 Social Ecology IIUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA

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