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Marion Experiment

Marion Experiment

Long-Term Solitary Confinement and the Supermax Movement

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Edited by Stephen C. Richards


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
4 illustrations

Elmer H Johnson & Carol Holmes Johnson Series in Criminology


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About the Book

Taking readers into the darkness of solitary confinement, this searing collection of convict experiences, academic research, and policy recommendations shines a light on the proliferation of supermax (super-maximum-security) prisons and the detrimental effects of long-term high-security confinement on prisoners and their families.

Stephen C. Richards, an ex-convict who served time in nine federal prisons before earning his PhD in criminology, argues the supermax prison era began in 1983 at USP Marion in southern Illinois, where the first “control units” were built by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Marion Experiment, written from a convict criminology perspective, offers an introduction to long-term solitary confinement and supermax prisons, followed by a series of first-person accounts by prisoners—some of whom are scholars—previously or currently incarcerated in high-security facilities, including some of the roughest prisons in the western world. Scholars also address the widespread “Marionization” of solitary confinement; its impact on female, adolescent, and mentally ill prisoners and families; and international perspectives on imprisonment.

As a bold step toward rethinking supermax prisons, Richards presents the most comprehensive view of the topic to date to raise awareness of the negative aspects of long-term solitary confinement and the need to reevaluate how prisoners are housed and treated.


Stephen C. Richards, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh and a Soros Senior Justice Fellow, is the author of numerous journal articles, chapters, and books, including Convict Criminology; Behind Bars: Surviving Prison;and Behind Bars: Rejoining Society after Prison.


"The Marion Experiment is a tough but necessary lesson in how not to fight crime."—ForewordReviews

The Marion Experiment unflinchingly documents two sorts of horror: one of breadth, the other of depth. The book takes us across the broad sweep of long-term solitary confinement, showing how this brutal practice has proliferated in the United States and across the globe. It also drops us deep inside the personal terrors of such confinement, right alongside those who have been there and against all odds survived to say so. I could hardly bear to read The Marion Experiment, and I couldn’t bear to stop. With this book the crucial work of convict criminology continues.”—Jeff Ferrell, author of Empire of Scrounge

The Marion Experiment provides a unique glance inside extreme forms of punishment, and inside the minds of those who are among the most impacted by the punishment—the prisoners themselves.”—Kristine M. Levan, Plymouth State University