The International Persistence and Resilience of Solitary Confinement


  • Keramet Reiter University of California, Irvine


Solitary confinement, human rights, incarceration, legal reform, Aislamiento carcelario, derechos humanos, encarcelamiento, reforma jurídica


Drawing on a combination of legal analysis and fieldwork conducted with prisoners and administrators in both Denmark and the United States, this article interrogates how solitary confinement has been defined and constrained – or not – in the context of U.S., European, and international law over time. Solitary confinement has existed consistently in prisons across the world, since the first prisons opened. Solitary has been surprisingly predictable over its long history: resilient to criticism, subject to ongoing debates about just how detrimental it is, and repeatedly producing instances of extreme and de-humanizing brutality. This consistency and predictability suggests substantial limitations inherent in the newest barrage of critiques leveled by courts, scholars, international human rights bodies, and professional associations against the practice of solitary confinement. Indeed, this reveals that many critiques of solitary confinement have failed because they have promoted reformist rather than non-reformist (or abolition) agendas – a distinction articulated by Mathiesen (1974/2014).

Partiendo de una combinación de análisis de leyes y trabajo de campo, este artículo investiga cómo se ha definido y limitado -o no- el régimen de aislamiento en los códigos legales. El aislamiento carcelario ha sido una constante en todo el mundo, produciendo ejemplos de brutalidad extrema, suscitando discusiones sobre su impacto psicológico y eludiendo las críticas fundadas en pruebas. La ininterrupción y predecibilidad del aislamiento carcelario indican que hay limitaciones sustanciales en la nueva ola de críticas por parte de juzgados, académicos, organizaciones de derechos humanos y asociaciones profesionales. Lo cierto es que muchas de las críticas han errado porque han promovido la reforma en lugar de la abolición, distinción explicada por Mathiesen (1974/2014).

Available from:


Download data is not yet available.
Views 288
PDF 541

Author Biography

Keramet Reiter, University of California, Irvine

Keramet Reiter studies prisons, prisoners’ rights, and the impact of prison and punishment policy on individuals, communities, and legal systems.  She uses a variety of methods in her work — including interviewing, archival and legal analysis, and quantitative data analysis — in order to understand both the history and impact of criminal justice policies, from medical experimentation on prisoners and record clearing programs to the use of long-term solitary confinement in the United States.




How to Cite

Reiter, K. (2017) “The International Persistence and Resilience of Solitary Confinement”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 8(2), pp. 247–266. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2024).

Similar Articles

1 2 3 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.