Study: Solitary Confinement is Cruel and Ineffective

From Scientific American:

“Some 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, according to the latest available census. The practice has grown with seemingly little thought to how isolation affects a person’s psyche. But new research suggests that solitary confinement creates more violence both inside and outside prison walls.

Prisoners in solitary confinement—also known as administrative segregation—spend 22 to 24 hours a day in small, featureless cells. Contact with other humans is practically nonexistent. Because solitary confinement widely occurs at the discretion of prison administration, many inmates spend years, even decades, cut off from any real social interaction. More than 500 of the prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison in California, for example, have been in isolation units for over a decade, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.”

This information is nothing new. Over ten years ago, a report from Commission on Safety and Abuse in America found that “the increasing use of high-security segregation is counter-productive, often causing violence inside facilities and contributing to recidivism after release.”

The article itself points out that in a Mississippi prison, where the number of inmates in solitary was reduced and greater access to mental healthcare was made available, violent attacks were reduced by almost 90%. Additionally, prisoners in the general population had lower recidivism rates than those who spent their time in isolation.

So why is solitary confinement still in use in the United States? There are a whole host of reasons. Mainly, it is because it’s the easiest way to get rid of problem inmates, especially those who suffer from mental illnesses. Rather than treating the problem with therapy and medication, it’s much easier for the prison system to just lock them in a hole and throw away the key. Secondly, there is (understandably) little public sympathy for the plight of the incarcerated. So there is very little pressure for the government to implement prison reform, especially for politicians for like to be considered “tough on crime.”

But there’s a difference between being tough on crime and condoning torture. The facts clearly show that solitary confinement is detrimental to the well being of the prisoner and doesn’t accomplish its goal of reducing offending behavior. So if you want to reduce crime in this country, prison reform is a good way to start.


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