PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A newly formed commission is studying the use of solitary confinement in Rhode Island prisons.

The 19-member legislative commission held its first meeting Thursday. It must report findings to the state House of Representatives early next year.

The state typically keeps about 300 inmates isolated in small cells, some for months or years. Prison officials say they use it for security reasons or as punishment to deter bad behavior. Critics say it’s counterproductive and causes lasting psychological harm.

State lawmakers this year debated and eventually abandoned legislation that would have limited confinement to no more than 15 days at a time. They opted to instead form the bipartisan commission that includes prison officials, health experts and former inmates. It will study the effects of solitary confinement and look at alternatives.