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Observations placeholder

Pelican Bay



Type of Spiritual Experience

Out of body

Number of hallucinations: 1


Dr. Grassian was a Board Certified Psychiatrist who was on the faculty of the Harvard Medical School for over twenty-five years. He had had extensive experience in evaluating the psychiatric effects of solitary confinement, and in the course of his professional involvement, has been involved as an expert regarding the psychiatric impact of federal and state segregation and disciplinary units in many settings. His observations and conclusions regarding this issue have been cited in a number of federal court decisions.

A description of the experience

From Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement - Stuart Grassian

In 1991–1992, as part of my participation in Madrid v. Gomez—a class-action lawsuit challenging conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison, a new “supermax” facility in California—I evaluated forty-nine inmates housed in the SHU at the institution and prepared a lengthy report to the federal court of my findings.

Many of the inmates I evaluated there suffered severe psychiatric disturbances while housed in Pelican Bay SHU, either springing up de novo while so incarcerated or representing a recurrence or severe exacerbation of preexisting illness. Of the forty-nine inmates I evaluated, at least seventeen were actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal and urgently in need of acute hospital treatment, and twenty-three others suffered serious psychopathological reactions to solitary confinement, including (in several cases) periods of psychotic disorganization.

The clinical data at Pelican Bay also added striking corroboration to the conclusion that the severe and prolonged restriction of environmental stimulation in solitary confinement is toxic to brain functioning. The data demonstrated that the most severe, florid psychiatric illnesses resulting from solitary confinement tend to be suffered by those individuals with preexisting brain dysfunction.

As noted before, I have observed a high incidence of preexisting central nervous system dysfunction among the inmates I evaluated in solitary confinement settings. This was also the case at Pelican Bay, and statistical analysis of the Pelican Bay data quite dramatically demonstrated that inmates with such preexisting vulnerability were the most likely to develop overt confusional, agitated, hallucinatory psychoses as a result of SHU confinement.

The source of the experience

Scientist other

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Loneliness and isolation


Sensory deprivation