Director's Corner: Setting the Agenda for Administrative Segregation Research

For most of my academic life, I have had an interest in corrections issues, especially the impact of incarceration on families and communities. When I arrived at NIJ, I was excited to be part of a national effort to reform sentencing and incarceration policies, including the use of solitary confinement.

As the nation examines administrative segregation, NIJ’s role will be to do what we do best: 1) Support empirical assessments to improve our understanding of the issues and 2) translate findings so criminal justice professionals can make informed decisions.

- Nancy Rodriguez

NIJ is proud to play a role in the national discussion about the use of administrative segregation, more widely known as solitary confinement or restrictive housing. It is common practice in jails and prisons, and it can be an important option that can safeguard the well-being of staff and inmates.

As the nation examines administrative segregation, NIJ’s role will be to do what we do best: 1) Support empirical assessments to improve our understanding of the issues and 2) translate findings so criminal justice professionals can make informed decisions.

We have a long road ahead because there is a lot we don’t know about administrative segregation. There are few data sources that speak to how widespread the practice is or how and when it is used. We have even less data about the long-term effects on inmates—and the limited research we do have conflicts with popular notions.

Our first step involves creating a strategic and comprehensive research agenda. To launch this research effort, we convened a diverse group of more than 80 experts from federal, state, and local corrections agencies, advocacy groups, academia, and research organizations. The meeting is occurring on October 22 and 23 in Crystal City, Virginia. Topics on the agenda include what we know and don’t know about the types of inmates who are put into this type of housing, the relationship between institutional violence and administrative segregation, issues related to the mental health of inmates, officer and inmate safety and wellness, civil rights issues, safe alternatives to administrative segregation, and gaps in data collection efforts and the existing empirical literature. These topics are the platform from which we will engage in an in-depth discussion about setting a research agenda and charting the next steps.  

NIJ is partnering with a wide range of practitioners, policy makers, and researchers as well as our sister agencies within the Department of Justice, including the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the Civil Rights Division. Together we will assess the scope of administrative segregation, determine how it is used, and identify safe alternatives.   

Another part of our research agenda-setting efforts is a series of white papers that are being drafted by scholars from varying disciplines, including psychology, sociology, and law. These papers will be available in 2016.

It is my hope that the October meeting will strengthen the nation’s body of knowledge on this important and timely topic and launch us onto a scientifically rigorous path of inquiry that produces policies and practices that are based on evidence.

We will be publishing the summary of the meeting on NIJ.gov with summaries from NIJ’s other research meetings and workshops. You also may subscribe to receive an email when this and other NIJ publications are released.

Date Created: October 22, 2015