Book Review: Solitary: The inside story of supermax isolation and how we can abolish it

Date01 September 2021
Published date01 September 2021
AuthorJane C. Daquin
Subject MatterBook Reviews
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Kupers, T. A. (2017).
Solitary: The inside story of supermax isolation and how we can abolish it. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
304 pp. $29.95, ISBN: 9780520292239.
Reviewed by: Jane C. Daquin, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818811916
Terry Kupers’s Solitary contributes to the scholarly examination of solitary confinement in three
ways: (1) it highlights the deplorable treatment of incarcerated persons, (2) brings attention to the
harmful practice of solitary confinement, and (3) it offers rehabilitative alternatives to isolation.
Written by a forensic psychiatrist and Professor Emeritus of Psychology, this book can be used by
other professionals and academics to understand the extent of harm associated with the practice of
solitary confinement.
In Solitary, Kupers argues that the use of solitary confinement (or supermax isolation) and the
practice of isolating incarcerated persons for long stretches of time are linked to deleterious conse-
quences. This work represents the culmination of Kupers’s decades of work as a forensic psychia-
trist, and the author draws on the data collected from more than four decades worth of interviews
with and observations of persons incarcerated in isolation. Although Kupers’s discussion of the
problems associated with solitary confinement is not a new topic of discussion, it is the use of the
words and personal experiences of the incarcerated persons that help to set this work apart from
others. Reading the personal accounts of so many who represent only a small percentage of the
persons experiencing these harsh conditions provokes a visceral response from readers. Solitary not
only contributes to the scholarly work in this area but also serves as a powerful piece in the advocacy
for the abolition of the practice of solitary isolation. The problems associated with solitary confine-
ment have been recognized since the 1800s, yet we continue to isolate individuals for extended
periods of time. Relatively few come out of solitary unscathed. As Kupers notes, “no matter what
mental condition a man is in before entering solitary, in my experience it is rare that he does not
emerge in demonstrably worse mental and physical condition” (p. 32).
Kupers divides the book into three parts. In Part I of Solitary, the author focuses on the conditions
of solitary confinement, the rationale for the use of solitary confinement, and the culture of punish-
ment. Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the history of solitary confinement in the United States
beginning in the first penitentiaries (e.g., Eastern State) to modern supermax prisons. Kupers then
390 Criminal Justice Review 46(3)

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