Photo of Sarah Hoffman

Sarah Hoffman

  • Hosted by Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC)
  • Sponsored by American Tire Distributors
  • Service location Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Law school University of North Carolina School of Law
  • Issue area Disability Rights, Prisoners' Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2021
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Sarah (she/her/hers) works with Disability Rights North Carolina to evaluate confinement conditions in North Carolina prisons and recommend strategies to improve treatment and prison conditions for incarcerated people with mental illness.

The North Carolina prison system holds thousands of people in solitary confinement on any given day. Although solitary confinement is extremely damaging to mental health, North Carolina prisons continue to assign people with mental illness to solitary, some for several months or years on end. North Carolina prisons implemented Therapeutic Diversion Units (TDUs) to serve as alternatives to solitary confinement for people with mental illness and Rehabilitative Diversion Units (RDUs) to serve as alternatives to long-term solitary confinement. Utilizing the Protection and Advocacy Agency (P&A) powers of Disability Rights North Carolina, Sarah is studying conditions in the TDUs, RDUs, and solitary units to strengthen advocacy efforts  of Disability Rights North Carolina and its partners in abolishing the use of solitary confinement for people with mental illness.

Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder as a teenager and recovered because she had privileged access to high-quality healthcare. After studying the systematic criminalization of mental illness, she became determined to expand quality care access to marginalized populations, particularly for people in prison who lack agency over care.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Sarah has:

  • Toured the North Carolina prison system inpatient mental health unit, general population and solitary confinement residential mental health units, and crisis mental health units
  • Monitored the entire solitary confinement control-status population in a North Carolina prison and debriefed with the acting Warden to highlight individual and systemic issues uncovered
  • Expanded communication with incarcerated individuals in solitary confinement, the RDUs and the TDUs
  • Collaborated with over 50 individuals and organizations, including directly impacted individuals, P&As from other states, legal and mental health advocacy organizations, and professional associations

Next Steps

In the next year, Sarah plans to:

  • Monitor and share findings on specific North Carolina prison units
  • Utilize the data tool developed by Torqata to compile and distribute data to interested allies as well as to establish an outreach system for individuals in solitary confinement with upcoming release dates
  • Develop and analyze strategies for Disability Rights North Carolina to pursue in order to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for people with mental illness and other disabilities


An Advocate for Mental Health

A person’s opportunity to recover from disease is a human right that should not be impeded by prison walls.

Sarah Hoffman /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Meet Other Fellows Like Sarah

View All

Silvana Naguib

Host: Equip for Equality

Sponsor: Latham & Watkins LLP

Caroline Hsu

Host: The Legal Aid Society of New York

Sponsor: Friends and Family of Philip M. Stern

Photo of Maya Goldman

Maya Goldman

Host: Uptown People’s Law Center

Sponsor: Albert & Anne Mansfield Foundation

Current Fellow

Photo of Lauren Kuhlik

Lauren Kuhlik

Host: American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project

Sponsor: The Art Lerner Memorial Fellowship