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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Though ICE uses “segregation” to describe its solitary confinement practices, we rely on the more commonly used term, “solitary confinement.”
According to the ICE directive, “Detainees with special vulnerabilities include those who are known to be suffering from mental illness or serious medical illness; who have a disability or are elderly, pregnant, or nursing; who would be susceptible to harm in general population due in part to their sexual orientation or gender identity; or who have been victims -in or out of ICE custody-of sexual assault, torture, trafficking, or abuse.”
Appendix 2 describes all variables provided in ICE’s report.
In contradiction to decades of research on the mental health impacts of solitary confinement, one 2011 report by O’Keefe et al. finds that prisoners in administrative segregation suffered no more psychological deterioration than those in the general prison population. However, experts have found serious methodological errors in the O’Keefe report (Grassian and Kupers 2011; Lovell and Toch 2011) and prison advocacy groups object to the study’s moral and legal implications (American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado 2010; Ridgeway and Casella 2010).
According to ICE, “Administrative segregation is a non-punitive form of separation from the general population for administrative reasons. Administrative segregation is authorized only as necessary to ensure the safety of the detainee, facility staff, and other detainees; the protection of property; or the security or good order of the facility, and therefore should be for the briefest term and under the least restrictive conditions practicable, consistent with the rationale for placement.” In contrast, ICE defines disciplinary segregation as “a punitive form of separation from the general population for disciplinary reasons. Disciplinary segregation is authorized only pursuant to the order of a facility disciplinary panel, following a hearing in which the detainee is determined to have committed serious misconduct in violation of a facility rule, and only consistent with the Disciplinary Severity Scale from the applicable ICE detention standards, and only when alternative dispositions would inadequately regulate detainee behaviour.” (See “11065.1: Review of the Use of Segregation for ICE Detainees,” Issued September 4, 2013, Federal Enterprise Architecture Number: 306-112-002b. Available at: https://www.ice.gov/doclib/detention-reform/pdf/segregation_directive.pdf, Accessed September 7, 2017).
While no facility provides complete information on all three descriptive variables: Adelanto includes information for all three variables in 30% of cases, followed by Santa Ana Jail with 25%, Yuba County Jail with 22%, Theo Lacy Facility with 14%, and Sacramento County Jail-Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center with only 7%. In addition, some cases include very limited content (the first example below), while others are more detailed (the second example below). The first example provides no information beyond a relatively non-descriptive placement reason. In the second example, ICE implies a deterioration in mental health over time. A lack of certain types of description in some cases and not others does not necessarily indicate an absence of circumstances and could instead be due to differences in reporting practices by facilities or individual officers. We therefore interpret textual data analysis as descriptive rather than representative.
Example 1: “Placed in AD SEG, because of Northern hispanic [sic] tattoos”
Example 2: “On December 15, 2015, [name redacted] was released from medical observation and returned to administrative segregation under facility initiated protect custody due to his continued sexual behavior with other detainees. On December 29, 2015, ADF Compliance Unit completed 14 day review for [name redacted]. On January 14, 2016, ADF Compliance Unit completed 30 day review for [name redacted]. [name redacted] remains in facility initiated protective custody due to his continued display of disruptive and inappropriate behavior towards other detainees. Alternative housing options are currently being explored for [name redacted] including alternative facilities that may better suit the detainee's housing needs. On January 24, 2016, was transferred from segregation to medical holding for suicide watch.”
We note that the spreadsheet contained no information about the types of cases that constitute “other.” Given the difficulty in defining this outcome category, as well as the fact that it contained only eight cases, we opted to drop it from our bivariate and multivariate analyses. We also note the possibility that the reason for entry into solitary confinement could be different from the reason for continued placement. However, ICE provided only one placement reason per case (though a small minority of descriptive text entries reveal multiple reasons); we are therefore unable to systematically assess the characteristics of cases involving separate entry and continued placement.
We opt to include only cases for which we have full information available to calculate length of confinement. We note that our multivariate results do not change substantively when all missing cases are assigned a release date of October 18, 2016, which is the latest release date reported in any case in the ICE spreadsheet.
Santa Ana Jail in particular has a separate, segregated housing area for transgender detainees. It appears this type of segregation is not categorized as solitary confinement per ICE’s report, as only three cases in the dataset (two in Santa Ana Jail and one in Yuba County Jail) are specified as “Protective Custody: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT).”
Although ICE also provided information on cases involving individuals with serious illnesses and serious disabilities, these cases were very uncommon (only 18 in total) and all but three involved an individual who also had mental illness. We are therefore only able to examine mental illness in our analyses.
It is unclear whether data are missing at random or for some other reason. However, given the theoretical and empirical importance of attorney status, we include this variable in our multivariate analysis. Substantive results deviate in small but non-trivial ways when the attorney variable is not included. Results from models without the attorney variable are available from the authors upon request.
One other facility, California Correctional Facility (CCF), contained only 5 cases and was therefore excluded from further analyses. However, the lack of cases at CCF may also be substantively interesting, as it suggests the possibility that some facilities may use solitary confinement more frequently than others. Indeed, many facilities that house detainees in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Field Office jurisdictions did not appear in the dataset at all. However, without more information about the entire population of detained individuals in the AORs, we are unable to evaluate this possibility.
As of 2017, Adelanto has the capacity to hold 2000 men and women; it is estimated that 73,000 detainees have been held in the facility since it opened in 2011 (Esquivel 2017).
We began by estimating a Cox Proportional Hazards models, but found that control variables for mental illness and individual facilities violated the proportional hazards assumption, indicating that the distribution of different categories of these variables are not proportional across the variable for confinement length. We therefore opted to use a series of logistic regression models.
American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. (2010). ACLU and experts slam findings of DOC report on solitary confinement. November 29, 2010. https://aclu-co.org/aclu-and-experts-slam-findings-of-doc-report-on-solitary-confinement/.
Association, A. (Ed.). (2011). ABA standards for criminal justice: Treatment of prisoners (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Standards Committee.
Association of State Correctional Administrators, and The Arthur Liman Public Interest Program, Yale Law School. (2016). Aiming to reduce time-in-cell: Reports from correctional systems on the numbers of prisoners in restricted housing and on the potential of policy changes to bring about reforms.
Brodsky, S., & Scogin, F. (1988). Inmates in protective custody: First data on emotional effects. Forensic Reports, 1(December), 267–280.
Browne, A., Hastings, A., Kall, K., & DiZerega, M. (2015). Keeping vulnerable populations safe under PREA: Alternative strategies to the use of segregation in prisons and jails. New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice.
Eagly, I., & Shafer, S. (2015). A national study of access to counsel in immigration court. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 164, 1.
Eisen, L.-B. (2017). Private prisons lock up thousands of Americans with almost no oversight. New York, NY: The Brennan Center for Justice.
Esquivel, P. (2017). ‘We Don’t Feel OK Here’: Detainee deaths, suicide attempts and hunger strikes plague California immigration facility. Los Angeles Times, August 8, 2017. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-adelanto-detention-20170808-story.html.
Fialho, C. (2018). FOIA request data on average daily detained population, March 2, 2018.
Foster, D., Davis, D., & Sandler, D. (1987). Detention torture South Africa psychological, legal, and historical studies. Cape Town and Johannesburg: David Phillip.
García Hernández, C. C. (2014). Immigration detention as punishment. UCLA Law Review, 61(5), 1346–1414.
Gibbons, J. J., & de B. Katzenbach, N. (2006). Confronting confinement—A report of the commission on safety and abuse in America’s prisons. New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice.
Gordon, S. (2013). Solitary confinement, public safety, and recidivism. Univeristy of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, 47, 495.
Grassian, S. (1983). Psychopathological effects of solitary confinement. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 140(11), 1450–1454. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.140.11.1450.
Grassian, S., & Kupers, T. (2011). The Colorado study vs. the reality of supermax confinement. Correctional Mental Health Report, 13(1), 1–4.
Guenther, L. (2013). Solitary confinement: Social death and its afterlives. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Hafemeister, T., & George, J. (2012). The ninth circle of hell: An Eighth amendment analysis of imposing prolonged supermax solitary confinement on inmates with a mental illness. Denver University Law Review, 90, 1.
Haney, C. (1993). Infamous punishment: The psychological effects of isolation. National Prison Project Journal, 8(2), 3–21.
Haney, C. (2003). Mental health issues in long-term solitary and ‘supermax’ confinement. Crime and Delinquency, 49(1), 124–156. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011128702239239.
Haney, C., & Lynch, M. (1997). Regulating prisons of the future: A psychological analysis of supermax and solitary confinement. New York Review of Law and Social Change, 23, 477–570.
Hayes, L., & Rowan, J. (1988). National study of jail suicides: Seven years later. Alexandria, VA: National Center on Institutions and Alternatives.
Homeland Security Advisory Council. (2016). Report of the subcommittee on privatized immigration detention facilities. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (2013). Review of the use of segregation for ICE detainees. 11065.1. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Kaba, F., Lewis, A., Glowa-Kollisch, S., Hadler, J., Lee, D., Alper, H., et al. (2014). Solitary confinement and risk of self-harm among jail inmates. American Journal of Public Health, 104(3), 442–447. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301742.
Kaufman, M. (2008). Detention, due process, and the right to counsel in removal proceedings. Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, 4(113), 138–149.
Kerwin, D., Alulema, D., & Siqi, T. (2015). Piecing together the US immigrant detention puzzle one night at a time: An analysis of all persons in DHS-ICE custody on September 22, 2012. J Migrat Hum Secur, 3(4), 330.
Kim, S., Pendergrass, T., & Zelon, H. (2012). Boxed In: The true cost of extreme isolation in New York’s prisons. New York, NY: New York Civil Liberties Union.
Kupers, T. (1999). Prison madness: The mental health crisis behind bars and what we must do about it (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kupers, T. (2017). Solitary: The inside story of supermax isolation and how we can abolish it. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
Longazel, J., Berman, J., & Fleury-Steiner, B. (2016). The pains of immigrant imprisonment. Sociol Compass, 10(11), 989–998. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12434.
Lovell, D., & Toch, H. (2011). Some observations about the colorado segregation study. Correct Ment Health Rep, 13(1), 1–4.
Markowitz, P. (2009). Barriers to representation for detained immigrants facing deportation: Varick street detention facility, a case study. Fordham Law Review, 78, 541.
Mears, D., & Bales, W. (2010). Supermax housing: Placement, duration, and time to reentry. Journal of Criminal Justice, 38(4), 545–554. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2010.04.025.
Mehta, S. (2010). Deportation by default: Mental disability, unfair hearings, and indefinite detention in the us immigration system. New York, NY: Human Rights Watch.
Mendez, J. (2011). Interim report prepared by the special rapporteur of the human rights council on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. New York, NY: United Nations.
Metcalf, H., Morgan, J., Oliker-Friedland, S., Resnik, J., Spiegel, J., Tae, H., Work, A., & Holbrook, B. (2013). Administrative segregation, degrees of isolation, and incarceration: A national overview of state and federal correctional policies. SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 2286861. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2286861. Accessed 5 April 2018.
National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). (2012). Invisible in isolation: The use of solitary confinement in immigrant detention. Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). http://www.immigrantjustice.org/sites/immigrantjustice.org/files/Inter-AmericanCommission_Solitary_SegReport.pdf.
Nelson, S. (2016). Private prison companies, punched in the gut, will keep most federal business. U.S. News and World Report, August 18, 2016. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-08-18/private-prison-companies-punched-in-the-gut-will-keep-most-federal-business.
O’Donnell, I. (2014). Prisoners, solitude, and time. Clarendon studies in criminology. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.
Obama, B. (2016). The president’s role in advancing criminal justice reform. Harvard Law Review, 130, 811.
Office of Detention Oversight. (2014). Office of detention oversight compliance inspection: Enforcement and removal operations, San Francisco, Yuba County Jail. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2997612-2012-ODO-Inspection-Sacramento-Cnty-Jail-CA.html.
Patler, C., & Branic, N. (2017). Patterns of family visitation during immigration detention. RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 3(4), 18–36. https://doi.org/10.7758/rsf.2017.3.4.02.
Patler, C., & Golash-Boza, T. (2017). The fiscal and human costs of immigrant detention and deportation in the United States. Sociology Compass. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12536.
Porporino, F. (1986). Managing violent individuals in correctional settings. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1(2), 213–237. https://doi.org/10.1177/088626086001002005.
Procter, N., De Leo, D., & Newman, L. (2013). Suicide and self-harm prevention for people in immigration detention. The Medical Journal of Australia, 199(11), 730–732. https://doi.org/10.5694/mja13.10804.
Reiter, K. (2012). The most restrictive alternative: A litigation history of solitary confinement in US prisons, 1960–2006. In A. Sarat (Ed.), Studies in law, politics, and society (Vol. 57, pp. 71–124). Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.
Reiter, K. (2016). 23/7: Pelican bay prison and the rise of long-term solitary confinement. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Reiter, K., & Blair, T. (2015). Punishing mental illness: Trans-institutionalization and solitary confinement in the United States. Extreme punishment (pp. 177–196). Berlin: Springer.
Reiter, K., & Coutin, S. (2017). Crossing borders and criminalizing identity: The disintegrated subjects of administrative sanctions. Law and Society Review, 51(3), 567–601. https://doi.org/10.1111/lasr.12281.
Ridgeway, J., & Casella, J. (2010). Controversial Colorado study shows prisoners ‘improve’ in solitary confinement. Solitary Watch. November 7, 2010. http://solitarywatch.com/2010/11/07/controversial-colorado-study-shows-prisoners-improve-in-solitary-confinement/.
Riveland, C. (1999). Supermax prisons: Overview and general considerations. Washington, DC: National Institute of Corrections.
Roma, P., Pompili, M., Lester, D., Girardi, P., & Ferracuti, S. (2013). Incremental conditions of isolation as a predictor of suicide in prisoners. Forensic Science International, 233(1–3), e1–e2. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2013.08.016.
Romano, M. (2017). The prevalence and severity of mental illness among California prisoners on the rise. Stanford Justice Advocacy Project. https://law.stanford.edu/publications/the-prevalence-and-severity-of-mental-illness-among-california-prisoners-on-the-rise/.
Schlanger, M. (2012). Prison segregation: Symposium introduction and preliminary data on racial disparities. Michigan Journal of Race and Law, 18, 241.
Slater, R. (1986). Psychiatric intervention in an atmosphere of terror. American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, 7(1), 5–12.
Smith, P. (2006). The effects of solitary confinement on prison inmates: A brief history and review of the literature. Crime and Justice, 34(1), 441–528. https://doi.org/10.1086/500626.
Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). (2014). Surprising variability in detainer trends by gender, nationality. http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/340/.
Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). (2016). New data on 637 detention facilities used by ICE in FY 2015. http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/422/.
United Nations Committee against Torture. (2014). Concluding observations on the third to fifth periodic reports of United States of America.
United States Government Accountability Office. (2013). Bureau of prisons: Improvements needed in bureau of prisons’ monitoring and evaluation of impact of segregated housing. Washington, DC.
Urbina, I., & Rentz, C. (2013). Immigrants held in solitary cells, often for weeks. New York Times, March 23, 2013.
Woodman, S. (2017). Exclusive: ICE put detained immigrants in solitary confinement for hunger striking. The Verge, February 27, 2017. https://www.theverge.com/2017/2/27/14728978/immigrant-deportation-hunger-strike-solitary-confinement-ice-trump.
Appendix 1: Text of FOIA request (reference number: 2017-ICFO-01806)
This letter constitutes a request for records pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. §552 (2012), on behalf of [name redacted for peer review] (hereinafter “requestor”). Requestor seeks copies of all reports concerning the use of segregation in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, pursuant to the 2013 ICE directive regarding the use of segregation for ICE detainees (See “11065.1: Review of the Use of Segregation for ICE Detainees,” issued September 4, 2013, Federal Enterprise Architecture Number: 306-112-002b). This includes but is not limited to Field Office Reports to ICE Headquarters and quarterly Detention Monitoring Council (DMC) subcommittee reports to the full DMC and the Director (as laid out in “11065.1: Review of the Use of Segregation for ICE Detainees,” Issued September 4, 2013). Requestor seeks any and all reports from September 4, 2013 through September 30, 2016. Specifically, requestor seeks this information in regards to any detainee held for any period of time in a detention facility in the Central District of California.
Requestor requests a reduction in fees pursuant to 5 U.S.C. §552(a)(4)(ii)(II) (2012) (“fees shall be limited to reasonable standard charges for document duplication when records are not sought for commercial use and the request is made by…educational or noncommercial scientific institution”) and 6 C.F.R. §5.11(d)(1) (search fees shall not be charged to “educational institutions”). Requestor is an academic researcher at [university name redacted for peer review], which qualifies as an “educational institution” within the meaning of FOIA, 6 C.F.R. §5.11(b)(4) (2012) (defining “educational institution” as “an institution of undergraduate higher education [or] an institution of graduate higher education…that operates a program of scholarly research.”). Furthermore, the information requested is not sought for a commercial purpose. Requestor seeks the information for scholarly research on the immigration system. A summary of requestor’s scholarship can be found here: [website redacted for peer review].
Appendix 2: Non-redacted variables included in ICE FOIA spreadsheet
|Variable||Values provided by ICE||Coded values for analysis||Number of cases containing data|
|Gender||Male; female||Female = 0; male = 1||1193|
|Field office area of responsibility (AOR)||LOS (Los Angeles); SFR (San Francisco)||LOS (Los Angeles) = 1; SFR (San Francisco) = 2||1193|
|Facility||Adelanto correctional facility (CA); Sacramento County Jail/Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center (CA); Santa Ana City Jail (CA); Theo Lacy Facility (CA); Yuba County Jail (CA)||
Adelanto Correctional Facility = 1|
Sacramento County Jail/Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center = 2
Santa Ana City Jail = 3
Theo Lacy Facility = 4
Yuba County Jail = 5
|Report type||14 Day; 30 Day Interval; 72 Hour||
14 Day = 1|
30 Day Interval = 2
72 Hour = 3
|Placement date||[Lists date that detainee entered solitary confinement]||Subtracted release date from placement date to calculate length of confinement||1193|
|Release date||[Lists date that detainee left solitary confinement]||Subtracted release date from placement date to calculate length of confinement||1148|
|Disciplinary Infraction||[Describes rule violation. Responses reported in narrative as well as infraction codes from ICE disciplinary directives]||[Kept original format]||426|
|Sanction length||[Lists the number of days the detainee was assigned to solitary confinement]||[Kept original format]||339|
|Attorney of record||No; Yes||No = 0; Yes = 1||910|
|Attorney notification||No; Yes||No = 0; Yes = 1||922|
|Detainee request||Detainee Request; Facility-Initiated||Facility-initiated placement = 0; detainee requested placement = 1||622|
|Compliance with detention standards||No (n = 1); Yes (n = 492)||[Kept original format]||493|
|Mental illness||Mental illness; No; None; Yes||No/None = 0; Yes/Mental Illness = 1||1184|
|Serious disability||No; Yes||No = 0; Yes = 1||1172|
|Placement reason||Disciplinary; Facility Security Threat: Due to Seriousness of Criminal Conviction; Facility Security Threat: Gang Member Status (Not Protective Custody); Facility Security Threat: Other; Facility Security Threat: Violent or Disruptive Behavior; Hunger Strike; Medical: Disabled or Infirm; Medical: Observation; Medical: Other; Medical: Other Infectious Disease; Medical: Tuberculosis; Mental Illness; Other; Pending Investigation of Disciplinary Violation; Protective Custody: Criminal Offense (i.e. Sex Offender); Protective Custody: Gang Status (Protective Custody Only); Protective Custody: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT); Protective Custody: Other Detainee Safety; Suicide Risk Placement||
Disciplinary or Pending Investigation of Discipline = 1|
Facility Security Threat (Any) = 2
Medical (Any) + Mental Illness = 3
Protective Custody (Any) + Suicide Risk Placement = 4
Other + Hunger Strike = 5
|Detailed reason||[Lists narrative descriptions of why detainee was placed into solitary confinement]||[Kept original format]||491|
|FO recommendation||[Lists the recommendation of the Field Officer]||[Kept original format]||475|
|Additional comments export||[Lists a chronological description of the confinement, including dates of rules violations and outcome of disciplinary case evaluation]||[Kept original format]||637|
|Special criteria||No; Yes||[Kept original format]||836|
Appendix 3: Average daily detained population compared to solitary confinement cases, by facility
|Avg. daily population (FY2014–FY2016) (n = 2155)||Proportion of total avg. daily population (n = 2155)||Total solitary confinement cases (n = 1180)||Proportion of total solitary confinement cases (n = 1180)|
|Sacramento County Jail-Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center||150||0.07||69||0.06|
|Santa Ana Jail||167||0.08||68||0.06|
|Yuba County Jail||197||0.09||67||0.06|
About this article
Cite this article
Patler, C., Sacha, J.O. & Branic, N. The black box within a black box: Solitary confinement practices in a subset of U.S. immigrant detention facilities. J Pop Research 35, 435–465 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12546-018-9209-8
- Solitary confinement
- Immigration detention
- United States