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May 2020 Educator | Resource of the Month

The Center for Diversity and Social & Economic Justice Educator|Resource is a monthly feature that highlights curricular resources and social work educators who address diversity and justice.

Shedding Light on Solitary Confinement


The treatment of prisoners who endure indefinite or many years of solitary segregation amounts to torture. — UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Tucked away and out of public sight, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people are being held in solitary confinement cells in our nation’s jails, prisons, and immigration detention centers, many for years on end. In a practice described by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as coming “perilously close to penal tombs,” the psychological and physical suffering of the people inside these solitary cells is incalculable. Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement (SWASC) combats the use of solitary confinement and seeks the support of social workers in its fight against this social injustice.

This Educator|Resource offers a comprehensive overview of solitary confinement that includes voices of those who have been affected by it, the ethical dilemma of health and social service providers who work in criminal justice facilities, and humane alternatives. A resource database provides an extensive set of more than 300 teaching resources that can be used in a range of social work courses. This includes courses in criminal justice and practice courses in mental health, policy, community organizing and advocacy, and social justice and human rights.


Teaching and Research Resource

Teaching tools include curriculum guides, readings and multimedia sources, and syllabi. Informational materials are drawn from highly credible scholarly publications, advocacy organizations, media, and other sources. See the Overview of Resource Database and Index of Keywords and Resource Types for search terms. The materials fall under four general categories:

  1. The carceral system and prison practices and conditions
  2. Mental and physical health effects of solitary confinement on prison inmates
  3. Issues for social work and healthcare professionals in correctional settings
  4. Advocacy, legislative, and policy practice in criminal justice

The database is available online as a Google spreadsheet and as an Excel spreadsheet file.


About the Educator

Renee-Smith-Maddox.jpg Moya Atkinson, MSW, is co-founder and steering committee member of Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement. She served as the executive director of the NASW-Maryland Chapter for nearly 10 years (1993-2002). Ms. Atkinson holds an MSW equivalent from Queen's University in Northern Ireland.



Q&A: Educator Pedagogical Approach 

What approach to teaching about solitary confinement, and incarceration more broadly, do you recommend?

The most powerful teaching approach is experiential, namely involvement in relevant activities coupled with reflection. Following are some learning opportunities for students that we recommend.





The views expressed in the Educator|Resource are those of the educator(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council on Social Work Education.

 Interested in contributing to the Educator | Resource of the Month? Please contact Dr. Yolanda Padilla, CSWE Diversity Center Director, at [email protected].