Administrative Segregation: A Review of State and Federal Policies

Published date01 August 2021
Date01 August 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(7) 718 –739
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403421998440
Administrative Segregation:
A Review of State and
Federal Policies
Ryan M. Labrecque1, Christopher M. Campbell2,
Kayla J. LaBranche2, Leah Reddy3, Karma Rose Zavita4,
and Robert D. Morgan5
The use of administrative segregation in prison is a controversial correctional policy.
Proponents argue this type of housing is necessary for maintaining institutional safety
and order, whereas critics contend it is damaging to inmate mental health. Despite the
increase in academic attention over the last decade, there is much that remains unknown
about the uses and effects of this practice. This study addresses this gap in knowledge
by content-analyzing the administrative segregation policies of 48 state and federal
prison systems. The results provide evidence of consistency and discrepancy across
key elements of these policies, including placement criteria and review procedures.
Findings further highlight how basic information regarding mental health provisions
and conditions of confinement are missing from a substantial number of policies. This
investigation emphasizes a need for more governmental accountability and transparency
in the use of this correctional policy and identifies several areas for future research.
administrative segregation, solitary confinement, restrictive housing, prison
Broadly speaking, restrictive housing—a practice scholars often refer to as solitary
confinement and supermax custody—is a prisoner management strategy that involves
1University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, USA
2Portland State University, Portland, OR, USA
3Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA
4University of California, Irvine, CA, USA
5Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Ryan M. Labrecque, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Central Florida, 12805 Pegasus Drive,
Orlando, FL 32816-1600, USA.
998440CJPXXX10.1177/0887403421998440Criminal Justice Policy ReviewLabrecque et al.
Labrecque et al. 719
separating problematic inmates from the general prison population into closed cells
with limited access to other people (Frost & Monteiro, 2016). Falling under the
umbrella of restrictive housing, there are three subtypes: disciplinary segregation (i.e.,
isolation as punishment for violating institutional rules), protective custody (i.e., pro-
tection of inmate from harm), and administrative segregation (i.e., separation for the
well order of the facility; see also Labrecque, 2016; Mears, 2016). The use of such
housing, however, is a controversial correctional policy. On one hand, prison officials
and supporters of the practice often note the necessity of these housing options for
maintaining institutional safety and order (see Labrecque & Mears, 2019; Mears &
Castro, 2006), and on the other hand, critics of this practice argue that prison authori-
ties tend to misplace inmates in these settings and that such placements can cause
serious physical and mental health problems (see Haney, 2018; Kupers, 2017; Lobel &
Smith, 2020). Although this debate remains contentious, several recent reviews high-
light how little is known about the uses and effects of restrictive housing (Garcia,
2016; Labrecque & Smith, 2019b; Morgan et al., 2016).
Given the evidence that situational factors in prison environments can influence
one’s behavior generally (Bonta & Gendreau, 1990; Steiner & Wooldredge, 2020;
Wortley, 2002), there is good reason to suspect that variations in the use of restrictive
housing may also produce differential effects among its inhabitants (see also Gendreau
& Bonta, 1984; Gendreau & Labrecque, 2018). There is a gap in the segregation litera-
ture, however, as little research explores the policies regulating the uses, conditions,
and provisions in restrictive housing settings (Foster, 2016). This line of inquiry is
essential for gaining a better understanding of the ways in which these environments
may influence psychological and behavioral outcomes. It is also critical to provide
correctional policymakers with information for modifying their policy standards in
ways that might mitigate the potential negative effects associated with this type of
The current study addresses this research gap by systematically examining the
restrictive housing policies of 48 state and federal prison systems. Although all forms
of restrictive housing appear to share some commonalities, scholarship suggests that
its three subtypes differ in many potentially meaningful ways (e.g., rationale, entry
and exit criteria, conditions; see Labrecque, 2016; Mears, 2016). For pragmatic pur-
poses, therefore, this review limits its scope to only administrative segregation poli-
cies. This type of confinement was selected because it is arguably the most controversial
and least understood form of restrictive housing. We begin with a review of the litera-
ture on the uses and effects of restrictive housing generally and then focus on the
administrative segregation research more specifically.
Over the last decade, there has been a notable rise in restrictive housing scholarship.
By far, the majority of this research focuses on the effect this setting has on psycho-
logical functioning measures, including anger, hostility, and depression (see, for
example, the reviews by Kapoor & Trestman, 2016; Morgan et al., 2016). In addition,

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