Disciplinary Segregation’s Effects on Inmate Behavior: Institutional and Community Outcomes

Published date01 August 2020
Date01 August 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2020, Vol. 31(7) 1036 –1058
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403419862338
Disciplinary Segregation’s
Effects on Inmate Behavior:
Institutional and Community
Youngki Woo1, Laurie Drapela2,
Michael Campagna3, Mary K. Stohr4,
Zachary K. Hamilton4, Xiaohan Mei5,
and Elizabeth Thompson Tollefsbol4
Disciplinary segregation (DS) is practiced in a variety of correctional settings and
a growing body of research explores its subsequent effects among offenders. The
present study contributes to this literature by analyzing the impact of short-term
DS on violent infractions and community recidivism among a sample of inmates in
Washington State. We assessed the impact of DS on these outcomes from deterrence
and stain theory perspectives while controlling for social support variables such as
visitations and correctional programming. Mentally ill offenders were excluded, as
their abilities to make rational choices may be inconsistent with deterrence theory.
Results show DS does not significantly affect post-DS infractions. Social supports
significantly reduced inmates’ odds of violent infractions while incarcerated.
Community models indicate no substantive differences between the DS and non-DS
groups on post-prison convictions 3 years after release. Overall, DS exhibited limited
effects on offenders’ institutional or community outcomes.
disciplinary segregation, violent infractions, recidivism, deterrence, strain, social
1The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville, TX, USA
2Washington State University, Vancouver, WA, USA
3University of Nebraska at Omaha, NE, USA
4Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA
5School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics, California State University Los Angeles, CA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Laurie Drapela, Washington State University, Vancouver, 14204 NE Salmon Creek Avenue, Vancouver,
WA 98686-9600, USA.
Email: ldrapela@wsu.edu
862338CJPXXX10.1177/0887403419862338Criminal Justice Policy ReviewWoo et al.
Woo et al. 1037
Corrections personnel across the United States use inmate isolation techniques to
maintain or reestablish institutional security (Labrecque & Mears, 2019; Mears et al.,
2019; Morgan et al., 2016; Shames, Wilcox, & Subramanian, 2015). Most prisons and
jails in the United States utilize some type of solitary confinement (SC) to achieve this
objective. Recent institutional “snapshot” data indicate approximately 80,000 prison-
ers are in SC on any given day (Shames et al., 2015; Stephan, 2008), and use of SC
increased by 42% between 1995 and 2005 (Shames et al., 2015). In 2010, the VERA
Institute initiated research partnerships with selected state correctional authorities to
more closely study the implementation of SC policy among selected U.S. prisons
(VERA Institute of Justice, n.d.). These research efforts articulated two areas of con-
cern among prisoners’ rights advocates and scholars, namely, the overreliance of an
extreme form of punishment—isolation—to maintain institutional control and the
negative consequences of isolation on offenders after completing SC.
Such concerns underscore distinct areas of scholarship on the effects of inmate
isolation within correctional facilities. Consistent with the abovementioned themes,
one area emphasizes the negative psychological effects of extreme applications of this
isolation technique (e.g., Grassian & Friedman, 1986; Haney, 2003, 2018; Haney &
Lynch, 1997; Rhodes, 2004; Shalev, 2009). While the implications of such intensive
isolation on inmates prompt legitimate cause for concern, drawing broad conclusions
from such cases is not warranted on scientific grounds. Some of these works are quali-
tative studies relying on small samples of individuals isolated from others for years or
even decades in a few instances.
Recent research suggests that the impact of inmate isolation on mental health is
modest at best when studies evaluating this relationship possess a high degree of
methodological rigor (Morgan et al., 2016). In addition, criminal justice scholars’
renewed interest in investigating the effects of inmate isolation on inmates’ subsequent
behaviors within prison and in the community has generated recent work on the topic.
The simplicity of such an exercise belies its complexity. Inmate isolation ranges from
24 hours or less to 23 hours of isolation per day with limited physical activity (e.g.,
supermaximum confinement). Recent evidence indicates that correctional authorities
typically segregate inmates away from the general prison population for considerably
briefer periods of time than “supermax” confinement (e.g., Barak-Glantz, 1983; Beck,
2015; Labrecque & Mears, 2019; Mears, 2013; Mears & Bales, 2010); yet academic
studies assessing supermax’s effects on inmates have outpaced that of more routine
applications of SC (e.g., Butler, Steiner, Makarios, & Travis, 2017; Lovell, Johnson, &
Cain, 2007; Mears & Bales, 2009; Mears & Reisig, 2006; Morgan et al., 2016; Pizarro
& Narag, 2008; Smith, 2006).
An emerging body of scholarship shows that limited durations of inmate isolation
from the general population do not significantly affect subsequent inmate misconduct
(Huebner, 2003; Labrecque, 2015, 2019; Lucas & Jones, 2017; Morris, 2016). Other
evidence indicates that longer term stays in SC have limited (Lovell et al., 2007;
Mears & Bales, 2009) or null effects (Clark & Duwe, 2018) on recidivism in the com-
munity after release. The present study contributes to this growing body of literature
by assessing the effects of short-term inmate isolation on these two outcomes. We

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