Solitary Confinement and Supermax Prisons: Lessons from America

Posted by er134 at May 15, 2013 11:56 AM |
Criminology expert to discuss solitary confinement in a public lecture at the University of Leicester on Wednesday 22 May

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 15 May 2013

The consequences of strict isolation of prisoners in ‘supermax’ prisons in America will be examined in a lecture at the University of Leicester.

As part of the Scarman Lecture Series, hosted by the Department of Criminology, Dr Sharon Shalev will give her lecture, Solitary Confinement and Supermax Prisons: Lessons from America on Wednesday 22 May.

One of the most striking features of the American criminal justice system at the turn of the century was the mass proliferation of supermax prisons: large, high-tech prisons especially designed and specifically dedicated to the long term, strict isolation of hundreds of prisoners each.

It is estimated that, alongside older segregation units in general-population prisons across the US, supermax prisons hold as many as 100,000 prisoners in conditions of solitary confinement at any given time. But to what end, and at what cost?

The lecture will examine the supermax phenomenon and some of its consequences, and asks what we can- and should – learn from the American experience with large scale prolonged solitary confinement.

Dr Shaley, a human rights worker and a criminologist, is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford, and an Associate of the International Centre for Prison Studies. She is also a Fellow of the Mannheim Centre for Criminology, London School of Economics.

She has authored various publications on the subject of the supermax, including the Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement, a practitioner’s guide to the health effects of solitary confinement and to human rights and professional standards relating to its use.

Her book, Supermax: controlling risk through solitary confinement (Willan, 2009) was awarded the British Society of Criminology’s Book Prize for 2010.  She is currently working on a pilot project entitled ‘Excluding the excluded: European practices of solitary confinement, past and present’ whilst continuing to manage the informational website

Professor Yvonne Jewkes, from the Department of Criminology said: “The Department is delighted to welcome Dr Sharon Shalev. She has spent two decades researching the use of solitary confinement in American ‘supermax’ prisons, and is currently turning her attention to European practices of solitary confinement.

“At a time when 'Titan' prisons are once again being discussed and debated in this country, Dr Shalev's talk promises to be timely and of relevance to anyone with an interest in justice and human rights.”

Solitary Confinement and Supermax Prisons: Lessons from America will be held in Frank and Katherine May lecture theatre in the Henry Wellcome building at 5:00pm, followed by a wine reception.

The event is free and open to all but places must be booked in advance.

For more information and to book a place please contact Russell Knifton on 0116 252 5780 or email:


Notes to editors:

For more information contact Russell Knifton on 0116 252 5780 or email:

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