Quantitative syntheses of the effects of administrative segregation on inmates' well-being

Robert D. Morgan, Paul Gendreau, Paula Smith, Andrew L. Gray, Ryan M. Labrecque, Nina MacLean, Stephanie A. Van Horn, Angelea D. Bolanos, Ashley B. Batastini, Jeremy F. Mills

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


There is a widely held belief that the use of administrative segregation (AS) produces debilitating psychological effects; however, there are also those who assert that AS is an effective strategy for reducing prison antisocial behavior and prison violence. Given these conflicting opinions it is not surprising that the use of segregation in corrections has become a hotly debated and litigated issue. To clarify the competing perspectives, two independent meta-analytic reviews, in an unplanned systematic replication, were undertaken to determine what effect AS has on inmate's physical and mental health functioning, as well as behavioral outcomes (e.g., recidivism). Collectively, the findings from these two meta-analytic reviews indicated that the adverse effects resulting from AS on overlapping outcomes ranged from d = 0.06 - 0.55 (i.e., small to moderate) for the time periods observed by the included studies. Moderator analyses from both investigations further reveal considerably smaller effect sizes among studies with stronger research designs compared to those with weaker designs. These results do not support the popular contention that AS is responsible for producing lasting emotional damage, nor do they indicate that AS is an effective suppressor of unwanted antisocial or criminal behavior. Rather, these findings tentatively suggest that AS may not produce any more of an iatrogenic effect than routine incarceration. Coding for these meta-analyses also revealed serious methodological gaps in the current literature. Recommendations for future research that will provide a much better understanding of the effects of AS are offered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-461
Number of pages23
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Administrative segregation
  • Meta-analysis
  • Sensory deprivation
  • Solitary confinement


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