Moving away from solitary confinement?

Katie Rose Quandt in Mother Jones reports on a story where the use of solitary confinement in prisons is being challenged recently in New York, Colorado, Indiana, California, and in congressional hearings:

These measures seem to echo a growing uneasiness with the use of solitary, especially for nonviolent inmates. The New York State agreement emerged from a class-action lawsuit, Peoples v. Fischer, brought by the NYCLU to challenge “the constitutionality of New York State’s practice of arbitrarily sentencing tens of thousands of incarcerated individuals to months and years of extreme isolation and solitary confinement for alleged infractions that often present no threat to prison safety.” Advocates hope the introduction of sentencing guidelines will help divert nonviolent individuals from solitary confinement, and shorten the stay of those who do end up in isolation….

…the average solitary sentence in New York state prisons from 2007 to 2011 was five months. Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on Torture for the United Nations, has called for prohibition of all isolation sentences longer than 15 days. Méndez believes solitary confinement amounts to torture and inhumane treatment when used “indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities, or juveniles.”

While in isolation, inmates eat, sleep, and spend 23 hours a day in confined, windowless boxes similar to this cell in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. Studies on involuntary confinement consistently find negative psychiatric symptoms within the first 10 days of isolation. Psychiatrist Stuart Grassian says that isolated inmates often experience confusion, hallucination, overwhelming anxiety, primitive aggressive fantasies, persecutory ideation, and sudden violent outbursts.

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Category : The Lead

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  1. Sara Miles

    From the Odes of Solomon:

    “I went to free the prisoners

    Because they belong to me

    and I abandon no one.”

  2. David O'Rourke

    The Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections recently wrote an Op Ed piece in the NY Times about solitary confinement. Note that his predecessor was assasinated by a man who had just gotten out on parole after spending quite a bit of his time on the inside in solitary.

    If you want to see a particulary chilling insight into solitary confinement look for a National Geographic show called “Solitary Confinement” that is available on Netflix and here

    I agree that solitary confinement as it exists, especially for long terms, is inhumane and we need to reform the system. Prison systems are responsible for maintaining control and protecting the safety of inmates, officers and staff, and they use the tools they have. What we need is to give the prison system the tools to maintain order and safety in humane ways and also give inmates the tools to be able to function in society once they are released. Considering that 97% of all inmates in the correctional system will be released at some point and that anywhere from 55% to 80% will be back inside within three years tells me that we have a long way to go.

    Correctional officers do a very difficult job in very difficult circumstances for low pay. Here is another article about the effects in their lives.

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