Solitary Confinement & Restrictive Housing Expert Article

Our experts in correctional operations are frequently retained to investigate incidents of inmate deaths and severe injuries. Inmates in restrictive housing (traditionally referred to as “solitary confinement”) may be particularly susceptible to degradation of mental and physical health, and as such there are specific standards of care that supervisory staff, security, and medical professionals must follow.

In this article, Corrections Expert, Paul Adee explores the standards of care that apply to inmates in restrictive housing.

Restrictive Housing/Solitary Confinement Expert Witness Investigations

Investigating Solitary Confinement Incidents

Oftentimes, people with some knowledge of the correctional industry still refer to restrictive housing as the “hole,” solitary confinement, special housing unit (SHU), administrative segregation (ADSEG), protective custody (PC), or disciplinary confinement, among others. While there are distinctions between them, they share a common purpose. In each situation, an inmate is assigned to and housed in a single occupancy cell, their movement outside of that cell is restricted to 1-2 hours per day, and their ability to communicate with others is limited.

Jails and correctional facilities by their very nature limit a person’s ability to provide and care for themselves. Inmates are solely reliant on someone else to provide them with basic necessities such as food, water, clothing, bedding, hygiene items, medical care, etc.

When an inmate is placed into restrictive housing, their ability to care for themselves in this regard is now limited even further. There are standards that correctional and medical personnel must follow regarding observation and physical/psychological well-being checks on this population.

When the standards are employed adequately and appropriately, they will aid in safeguarding the inmate’s physical and mental health. This occurs through a system of inmate well-being or wellness checks where observation, notification, and treatment by correctional, medical, and mental health professionals occurs as required.

Failure to follow the standard of care may result in a medical emergency or the death of the inmate due to suicide, starvation, water intoxication, or some other medical event.

Correctional Standard of Care for Restrictive Housing


Jails and correctional facilities have an obligation to ensure they have enough personnel to staff their facilities adequately. Failure to provide a safe and secure facility may increase the facility’s vulnerability to operational problems, staff and inmate injury or deaths, and litigation.

Well-being Checks/Observation of Inmates

Depending upon the circumstances for the inmate’s isolation and their current status as determined by classification and/or mental health professionals, well-being observation checks of the inmate should be performed on a constant basis or within 15 - 30 minute intervals as appropriate.

Observations should be conducted on an irregular or staggered schedule, as this makes it more difficult for the inmate to predict when the correctional officer will be at their cell door, thereby making it more difficult for them to cause harm to themselves or violate facility rules.

It is during these checks and other times (mealtime, laundry exchange, recreation, etc.) that correctional officers should be observing the inmate and taking steps to determine if they are alive, safe, and/or in need of assistance.

If the inmate is in medical duress, shows signs of physical or mental decompensation, is not eating, or needs assistance in any other manner, it is the correctional officer’s responsibility to take action and make notification to the appropriate personnel as required.

Medical & Mental Health Professionals

The requirement for observation and assessment of inmates housed within the restrictive housing unit or special management section does not end with security staff.

Medical and/or mental health professionals must also visit, observe, and assess each inmate within this unit on a regular basis. These visits or rounds should take place on a predetermined schedule, depending upon the inmate’s needs as determined by ongoing assessments.

During these visits staff should be interacting with the inmate. They should also be documenting the weight of the inmate, and changes in the inmate’s mental/psychological and physical status (e.g., observable injuries or deformities, etc.).


In addition to providing ongoing supervision to their subordinates, supervisory personnel also have a duty to visit each inmate in restrictive housing (i.e., special management) regularly.

During these visits, supervisory personnel should also observe and take steps to determine each inmate’s condition and if they are in need of assistance in any manner. If so, it is their responsibility to make notification to the appropriate personnel as necessary.

Correctional Facility Expert Witness Investigations

Forensic investigations of injuries and other incidents that occur in restrictive housing may consider several factors to determine if the involved parties met the standard of care.

Common materials that would typically be reviewed include policies and procedures, training records, medical records, video surveillance footage, inmate well-being documents and logs, inmate attitude and condition logs or forms, post or area logbooks, and other relevant documents. Forensic investigations adequately conducted will frequently determine if non-compliant treatment of the inmate caused or contributed to a negative result.

To discuss your case with an expert, submit an inquiry or call us at 800.813.6736.

Featured Expert

Paul M. Adee, Police Practices, Security & Corrections Expert

Paul M. Adee, CCM, CCHP

Police Practices, Security & Corrections Expert
Paul Adee is a police practices and corrections expert with over 32 years of experience in correctional and courthouse facilities. Paul applies his expertise to forensic casework involving the… read more.


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