Hastings Journal of Crime and Punishment


Richard Lee


California’s state prison system lacks sufficient regulations to restrict the use of solitary confinement for pregnant women. Under the current system, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) possesses broad discretion regarding the use of solitary confinement, administrative segregated housing, or other forms of isolated placement. According to the CDCR manual, prison officers may place a pregnant woman in solitary confinement as long as her medical condition does not “preclude” that placement. This standard, which vests an inappropriate amount of discretion in prison officers, is deeply insufficient to prevent the negative consequences of subjecting pregnant women to solitary confinement. Studies have shown that even for the general population, solitary confinement greatly increases the risk of long-term mental harm, leading to selfmutilation and suicide in some cases. Vulnerable populations like pregnant women are far more susceptible to the potential dangers of solitary confinement. To add insult to injury, California’s heavy overuse of solitary confinement unquestionably exacerbates racial and class disparities. Due to the disproportionate use of solitary confinement on people of color, who are already overrepresented in prisons, the continued practice of using solitary confinement reflects the rippling effects of mass incarceration on low-income communities of color.

Solitary confinement is an outdated, inefficient, overpriced, and torturous form of punishment that should be banned for all people. In the cases of vulnerable populations like pregnant women, however, there must be an increased urgency to prevent further subjugation of inmates to this form of confinement. Many other jurisdictions in the U.S. have already recognized the diminishing returns of solitary confinement and have made legislative attempts to minimize those harms. Furthermore, an increasing number of states are becoming more cooperative and transparent by collecting and sharing data of pregnant women in their prisons. California should match these efforts so reproductive health allies and stakeholders can quantify how many pregnant women are imprisoned and can allocate their resources accordingly.

The current state prison system that allows for the solitary confinement of pregnant inmates should be viewed as unacceptable after considering the overwhelming research conducted by advocates against its use. California should follow the footsteps of other jurisdictions that have adopted alternative methods to maintain safety such as utilizing incentive-based methods to encourage positive behavior. Additionally, other facilities have also found success through providing alternative spaces that are separate from the general population but do not involve single-cell confinement. This note’s purpose is to emphasize the crucial need for California to finally implement regulation that can protect their prison population from this counterproductive practice. In particular, vulnerable populations like pregnant women lack the physical and mental capabilities to resist the harmful effects of solitary confinement as strongly as other able-bodied populations. While California should strive to prohibit or heavily restrict the use of solitary confinement for all populations, pregnant women are inherently more vulnerable and therefore must be prioritized.