Sharon Shalev joined the Centre in 2011. Her key research interest is the use of solitary confinement and other restrictive practices in prisons and other places of detention across the world. Over the last two decades this has involved extensive research on the American ‘supermax’ prisons and, with funding from the John Fell Fund, a pilot study of high security prison units across Europe. Her book, 'Supermax: controlling risk through solitary confinement' (Willan, 2009) has been awarded the British Society of Criminology's Book Prize.
Sharon acts as an independent consultant on prison conditions, human rights and the use and consequences of solitary confinement. She has authored various publications on the subject, including the Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement - a practitioner's guide to the health effects of solitary confinement and to human rights and professional standards relating to its use. Since its publication the Sourcebook has become a widely used point of reference internationally and has been translated into French, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish.
Current projects include the Mapping Solitary Confinement project, which seeks to build a database on the use of solitary confinement internationally. Work is carried out in collaboration with colleagues from Australia, Belgium, Canada, India, France, Norway, and Spain, to name but a few.
Parallel, in 2022 Sharon was commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Justice to study “Perspectives on Prison Isolation in the Netherlands”. The study includes field research in seven prisons and interviews with prison managers, staff, incarcerated people and others working in and with prison isolation units. The study is due to complete in the summer of 2023.
Between 2016 - 2021 Dr Shalev completed a series of reports on solitary confinement practices across different detention contexts in New Zealand. Initially, Sharon was invited by New Zealand's National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) bodies, with funding from the UN, to conduct a review of seclusion and restraint practices in police custody, mental health units, prisons, children and young people's residences. The ensuing report, "Thinking outside the box? Review of seclusion and restraint practices in New Zealand" was published by New Zealand's Human Rights Commission in 2017. In 2020 she was invited to conduct a follow-up review of solitary confinement and restraint practices in New Zealand. Findings of the follow-up review were published in December 2020 in a report titled "Time for a paradigm change: a follow up review of seclusion and restraint practices in New Zealand".
Time for a paradigm change highlighted a particularly high use of solitary confinement and restraint within New Zealand's women's prisons. To explore this further, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission invited Sharon to pen another report, this time focusing specifically on women's prisons. The resulting report, entitled: "First, Do No Harm: segregation, restraint and pepper spray use in women’s prisons in New Zealand" was published by the Commission in November 2021. It concluded that “If the aspirations of Corrections’ flagship policies regarding women are to be genuinely and properly realised, the fortunes of women who end up in the deepest end of Corrections’ custody need to be improved for them to leave prison in a better place than there were when entering in. At the very least, they must not be made worse.” The report was launched at a public webinar chaired by Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo, New Zealand’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, and attracted significant media attention. Sharon is currently exploring the use of solitary confinement with another vulnerable group- children and young people, as well as its use in psychiatric hospitals.
Previous research includes her study of prison segregation units and Close Supervision Centres in England and Wales was conducted jointly with the Prison Reform Trust with funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust. The study included visits to 14 prisons and 4 Close Supervision Centres, and interviews with prisoners, prison officers and governors to get their views about, and experiences of, segregation units. The study helped to build an evidence base on the uses of segregation: the regulations governing its use, variations in practice, the characteristics of those who end up in segregation and their experience of segregation, the views of staff who work there, and the processes for returning people to normal location. The resulting report, Deep Custody: Segregation Units and Close Supervision Centres in England and Wales was published in December 2015.
Other research interests include: the design, management and regime in high security prisons on both sides of the Atlantic; prison architecture; the use of restraints in prisons and mental health settings; human rights and prisons and; prison health care and medical ethics in prison.