Supermax prisons became more popular over the last decades. If earlier prisoners stood in solitary confinement for a short time, today many correctional facilities segregate prisoners on a regular basis. Solitary confinement may be of two types. The first one is a disciplinary segregation which takes place when prisoners violate established rules. They are put into isolation for a short time which is defined by the rules. The second type is an administrative segregation which takes place when a prisoner is dangerous for the inmates and staff. In this case, solitary confinement takes years.
There is a controversy about the propriety of solitary confinement. Psychologists claim that prisoners deprived of human interaction suffer from a range of mental conditions. Some of them have their mental health issues exacerbated and others acquire new conditions over the time of isolation. Besides, supermax prisons are expensive.
Recent psychological studies about the effects of administrative segregation in a Colorado prison, however, did not support the researchers’ assumptions. Segregated individuals had higher rates of mental illnesses indeed which, however, might have developed yet before isolation. Due to the methodological flaws, researchers still cannot draw fair conclusions from the study. As psychological research on prisoners is restricted because of the ethical concerns, it is impossible to reveal and compare the state of prisoners before and after solitary confinement.
Nevertheless, many psychologists argue that segregation in prisons shall be limited. Enforced isolation is always stressful. In a number of states, it is illegal to put mentally impaired inmates into solitary confinement. All people show a different response to resilience, and it is impossible to predict how even healthy individuals will be affected by isolation.