Past Event

Postponed: Brains, Minds, and Lives in Solitary Confinement: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives for Change

April 23, 2020
2:30 PM - 6:30 PM
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Event Description: 

This event has been postponed and will be rescheduled in Fall 2020. 

The practice of solitary confinement, an extreme form of punishment that involves social isolation in a confined space, is notorious in US prisons. Stories of incarcerated people forced into prolonged isolation and living in precarious conditions without meaningful social contact have been reported both in academic literature and the media. Solitary confinement reforms are taking place in many states, including New York. However, these reforms are slow and inconsistent, providing further challenges in addressing potential reforms of this correctional practice.

Numerous psychological studies show the dramatic and long-term effects of solitary confinement on the mental health of incarcerated people. Consistent with the psychological perspectives, neuroscientific evidence suggests that extreme isolation can lead to harmful changes in the brain, sometimes resulting in irreversible damage. This type of evidence has already been used in courtrooms to support the claim that solitary confinement is ultimately a disfiguring punishment that may lead to long-lasting or even permanent injuries.

This interdisciplinary conference will provide a holistic understanding of the traumatic effects of solitary confinement and feature perspectives from legal scholars, neuroscientists, and activists. The speakers will explore the impact of solitary confinement on the lives of people forced into extreme isolation and address how neuroscience can help restrict, and potentially eliminate, the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities.

Event Speakers: 

  • Paul Appelbaum, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law, Columbia University
  • Brett Dignam, Vice Dean of Experiential Education and Clinical Professor of Law
  • Craig Haney, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, UC Santa Cruz
  • Jules Lobel, Professor of Law, Bessie McKee Walthour Endowed Chair at the School of Law, University of Pittsburgh
  • Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law, Yale Law School
  • Richard Smeyne, Professor of Neuroscience and Director Jefferson Comprehensive Parkinson’s Disease Center, Thomas Jefferson University
  • Michael Zigmond, Professor Emeritus of Neurology, University of Pittsburgh


Johnny Perez, Criminal Justice Reform Leader


Federica Coppola, Presidential Scholar in Society and Neuroscience, Columbia University

Event Information: 

This event is part of the Seminars in Society and Neuroscience series.

Please visit the Faculty House website for directions.