Researchers and Physicians at UCSF Caution Against the Use of Solitary Confinement to Prevent COVID Spread

SAN FRANCISCO, July 6, 2020– Today, Amend at UCSF, which uses a public health lens to transform culture in correctional facilities, announced the publication of an article entitled Medical isolation and solitary confinement: Balancing health and humanity in U.S. jails and prisons during COVID-19. This article offers important insight for policymakers, advocates, and those who work in corrections on ways to tackle the current epidemic and improve the safety and well-being of all people involved in the correctional system. Correctional facilities have some of the highest confirmed rates of COVID-19. Nine of the top ten case clusters are correctional facilities, thus a change in practice is necessary.

“Now is the time to put health first in correctional policy and practice, said Dr. Brie Williams, Founder and Director of Amend at UCSF. “We must ensure that medical isolation and quarantine procedures follow community standards of care and are not, in reality, solitary confinement by another name.”

David Cloud and other researchers and physicians at UCSF provide insight into the necessary preventative measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons. Medical isolation and quarantine help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, “but use of these tools is complicated in prisons and jails where decades of overuse of punitive solitary confinement is the norm.” Research has continually documented the harmful impacts of solitary confinement on resident mental and physical health wellbeing, including increased rates of self-harm and suicide, as well as overall “excess morbidity and mortality among currently and formerly incarcerated people.” Therefore, differentiating between solitary confinement (a common form of punishment) and medical isolation and quarantine (health measures), is a necessity.

Cloud and his team identify the steps to creating safe spaces for medical isolation and quarantine in prisons and jails that will ultimately improve the safety of residents, correctional officers, and surrounding communities. These steps include: coordinated, safe release of as many incarcerated people as possible, creation of organized cohorts of residents that remain in the facilities, and robust testing of all residents and staff. Medical isolation and quarantine must bear no resemblance to solitary confinement beyond physical separation from others. Therefore, people under medical isolation and quarantine should have enhanced access to resources, since they “are enduring isolation for the greater good, not for punishment.” Enhanced access to resources ranges from tablets, phones, books, means of communication with loved ones, to access to telehealth consultations. If medical isolation and quarantine bear significant resemblance to solitary confinement, people will be deterred from reporting symptoms, threatening overall public health.

Researchers at Amend at UCSF have crafted in depth solutions to managing the COVID-19 crisis in jails and prisons, focusing on health oriented best practices by addressing the important differences between medical isolation and quarantine with solitary confinement. Their work is beneficial to improving the health and well-being of all those involved in corrections.


Founded in October 2019 Amend at UCSF is a health-focused correctional culture change program led by experts in medicine (geriatrics, infectious diseases, family medicine), public health, and correctional health and policy. Amend at UCSF works with U.S. correctional departments to promote the health and wellbeing of people who live and work in U.S. jails and prisons.


Daryl Norcott
Amend Communications Director