Join the Meeting Place for Moms!
Talk to other moms, share advice, and have fun!

(minimum 6 characters)

Current Events & Hot Topics Current Events & Hot Topics

Solitary Confinement: Punishment Or Cruelty?

Posted by on Mar. 11, 2013 at 9:12 AM
  • 11 Replies

Solitary Confinement: Punishment Or Cruelty?

A hallway at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. The prison, opened in 1829 and closed in 1970, pioneered the use of solitary confinement.

Jacki Lyden /NPR

An estimated 80,000 American prisoners spend 23 hours a day in closed isolation units for 10, 20 or even more than 30 years.

Now, amid growing evidence that it causes mental breakdown, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has decided for the first time to review its policies on solitary confinement.

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which pioneered solitary confinement, is a castle of a prison that was meant to reform incarceration itself when it opened in 1829. The idea behind the prison's solitary confinement areas was to use sensory deprivation to reform inmates. The thought was that the isolation and quiet would free the innately good soul.

"They believed that isolation here was going to bring about the best of these inmates. Change them for life. Make them penitent," says Sean Kelley, director of public programming at the historic site. "There is a lot of evidence that that is not what happened."

For many reasons that sound familiar today – including cost and questionable effectiveness — Eastern State dropped the practice in 1913, but by then the blueprint of this penitentiary had been copied more than 300 times across the Western world. The prison, once a state-of-the-art facility, closed its doors in 1970, and is now a museum.

One of the cells at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

Matt Rourke/AP

An Uncertain Method

Solitary confinement exploded with the law-and-order policies of the 1980s, when almost every state built what's called a "supermax" for the so-called "worst of the worst." But since then, more questions have been raised about the mental health of prisoners held this way.

Last summer, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chair of the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights subcommittee, led hearings to address solitary confinement practices. He says it was prompted by a New Yorker article by Boston surgeon Atul Gowande titled "Hellhole."

"I read it, and I couldn't forget it," Durbin tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered. "It was all about the impact of segregation and isolation on prisoners, and I started thinking about it as part of my agenda for my subcommittee on human rights."

Testifying in front of the committee was Charles Samuels, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Samuels explained the necessity of the solitary confinement to keep violent inmates apart from guards and other prisoners.

"The use of any form of restricted housing, however limited, remains a critical management tool that helps us maintain safety, security and effective reentry programming for all federal inmates," Samuels said.

The BOP wouldn't grant an interview for this story, but provided a comment saying the bureau is confident the review "will highlight both the strengths that the Bureau brings to corrections management, as well as innovative ideas from the states."

Solitary confinement already doubles to triples the costs of incarceration, up to $60,000 a year per inmate. But wardens who've seen its wide use now in the last 30 years have their own evaluation of whether it does more harm than good.

"I really believed when I got close to the situation at the supermax in Wisconsin that one of the things that I was seeing was mentally ill people who didn't come in mentally ill," says Walter Dickey, formerly the secretary of corrections for Wisconsin.

Dickey tells NPR's Lyden that the level of security and the overcrowding he saw were detrimental to a prisoner's mental health, even when they didn't start out in isolation. He doesn't, however, think the practice should be dropped.

"[The feds] had experiences in which they had inmates kill multiple staff members and multiple inmates," he says. "People like that need to be isolated, at least temporarily, if not for a longer period of time until you can release them into the population, the general population, with some confidence that they're not going to do severe damage to other people."

At the hearing, Durbin noted that after Mississippi had done away with solitary confinement, prison violence went down by 50 percent and the cost of incarceration went down as well.

"It was a wake-up call to all of us to take a hard look at it," he says. "Maybe this just isn't the best way to deal with these problems."

Living Through Isolation

As prisoners testify about suicidal depression, self-mutilation, lethargy, hallucinations and other ills, more attention is being paid to inmates who have lived through the extreme, often uncertain isolation.

Robert King is one of the Angola Three — one of the men serving the longest sentences in the country in solitary confinement — in his case at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana. King was released in 2001, after serving 29 years in solitary, at times in a 3-by-6 cell that he describes as a "tomb."

"There was a slab of concrete that you slept on ... and during the winter time you froze, and during the summer time you overheated," King says.

During his time in prison, King says he saw the system, and the solitary confinement, change people. He says he saw once open people become more withdrawn as time went on.

"I kind of insulated myself when I saw what happened to them; I think it created a steel resolve in myself to not succumb to that," he says.

After his release, King published a book, and he also speaks internationally, but despite his post-incarceration success, he says the effects of his solitary confinement still lingers.

"I don't think a person could get dipped in waste and not come up smelling," he says. "Even though it may not be totally apparent, the impact and the effects are there."

Neon Washable Paint

by on Mar. 11, 2013 at 9:12 AM
Add your quick reply below:
You must be a member to reply to this post.
Replies (1-10):
MeAndTommyLee
by Platinum Member on Mar. 11, 2013 at 9:20 AM

Cruel and unusual punishment is the way I see it. 

Google the story of a man that was awarded 15.5 million for sitting, forgotten in SC for 22 months.  He was initially locked up for  drunkenness -- perhaps even driving, but never got a trial.  His claims of being ill were ignored also.  Today is suffers from mental illness and lung cancer.

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Mar. 11, 2013 at 9:28 AM

When I first saw this article I thought they might mention that story...

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

Cruel and unusual punishment is the way I see it. 

Google the story of a man that was awarded 15.5 million for sitting, forgotten in SC for 22 months.  He was initially locked up for  drunkenness -- perhaps even driving, but never got a trial.  His claims of being ill were ignored also.  Today is suffers from mental illness and lung cancer.


Neon Washable Paint

MeAndTommyLee
by Platinum Member on Mar. 11, 2013 at 9:36 AM

You would think.  I was stunned when I read the story last Friday.  How does that even happen?  Yes, the man did need to sober up, but for 22 months?  What kind of system are they running here?  I was aggravated when I read that.  Here, with this story, I'm sickened at the idea even more.  The living conditions are heinous.  I understand that felons do act up in prison, however, they still retain basic human rights that should both,  severely limit solitary confinement and  update these holding cells for sanitation reasons. 


Quoting NWP:

When I first saw this article I thought they might mention that story...

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

Cruel and unusual punishment is the way I see it. 

Google the story of a man that was awarded 15.5 million for sitting, forgotten in SC for 22 months.  He was initially locked up for  drunkenness -- perhaps even driving, but never got a trial.  His claims of being ill were ignored also.  Today is suffers from mental illness and lung cancer.



 

krysstizzle
by on Mar. 11, 2013 at 9:39 AM

There is a fantastic NatGeo documentary on solitary. It's extremely harrowing (and infuriating). 

I find it to be cruel and unusual. Our whole prison industrial complex is screwed up, though. 

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Mar. 11, 2013 at 9:39 AM

Ignoring his cancer was particularly heinous.

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

You would think.  I was stunned when I read the story last Friday.  How does that even happen?  Yes, the man did need to sober up, but for 22 months?  What kind of system are they running here?  I was aggravated when I read that.  Here, with this story, I'm sickened at the idea even more.  The living conditions are heinous.  I understand that felons do act up in prison, however, they still retain basic human rights that should both,  severely limit solitary confinement and  update these holding cells for sanitation reasons. 


Quoting NWP:

When I first saw this article I thought they might mention that story...

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

Cruel and unusual punishment is the way I see it. 

Google the story of a man that was awarded 15.5 million for sitting, forgotten in SC for 22 months.  He was initially locked up for  drunkenness -- perhaps even driving, but never got a trial.  His claims of being ill were ignored also.  Today is suffers from mental illness and lung cancer.





Neon Washable Paint

krysstizzle
by on Mar. 11, 2013 at 9:40 AM

Absolutely despicable. No one has been held accountable for this, either. 
It beyond disgusts me.  

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

Cruel and unusual punishment is the way I see it. 

Google the story of a man that was awarded 15.5 million for sitting, forgotten in SC for 22 months.  He was initially locked up for  drunkenness -- perhaps even driving, but never got a trial.  His claims of being ill were ignored also.  Today is suffers from mental illness and lung cancer.


MeAndTommyLee
by Platinum Member on Mar. 11, 2013 at 9:44 AM

Absolutely.   


Quoting NWP:

Ignoring his cancer was particularly heinous.

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

You would think.  I was stunned when I read the story last Friday.  How does that even happen?  Yes, the man did need to sober up, but for 22 months?  What kind of system are they running here?  I was aggravated when I read that.  Here, with this story, I'm sickened at the idea even more.  The living conditions are heinous.  I understand that felons do act up in prison, however, they still retain basic human rights that should both,  severely limit solitary confinement and  update these holding cells for sanitation reasons. 

 

Quoting NWP:

When I first saw this article I thought they might mention that story...

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

Cruel and unusual punishment is the way I see it. 

Google the story of a man that was awarded 15.5 million for sitting, forgotten in SC for 22 months.  He was initially locked up for  drunkenness -- perhaps even driving, but never got a trial.  His claims of being ill were ignored also.  Today is suffers from mental illness and lung cancer.


 

 



 

MeAndTommyLee
by Platinum Member on Mar. 11, 2013 at 9:46 AM

I suppose the state  throwing money at him is supposed to `soften' the damage.  I sincerely hope that he uses the money to get the best medical care possible so he has a chance of battling, and surviving this illness.   


Quoting krysstizzle:

Absolutely despicable. No one has been held accountable for this, either. 
It beyond disgusts me.  

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

Cruel and unusual punishment is the way I see it. 

Google the story of a man that was awarded 15.5 million for sitting, forgotten in SC for 22 months.  He was initially locked up for  drunkenness -- perhaps even driving, but never got a trial.  His claims of being ill were ignored also.  Today is suffers from mental illness and lung cancer.



 

survivorinohio
by René on Mar. 11, 2013 at 9:56 AM

Cruel.  Even torture. 


mehamil1
by Platinum Member on Mar. 11, 2013 at 10:01 AM

I have read that since we humans are social creatures, the worst thing you could do to a human being is isolate us for long periods of time. It literally makes people go insane. 

At my school a guy did a speech about being in solitary for 5 years. He said that it really messes with your mind and he'll probably have to be on anxiety meds for the rest of his life as a result. Also, the entire time, all he wanted was someone to talk to. The other person could have been a mentally deranged ax murderer (he said that), he would have gladly taken that. He was in jail for armed robbery when he was 15 years old. While in jail, he got caught up in a fight (that he says he didn't start but whatever) and then was put into solitary confinement for the next 5 years. 

It is very much cruel and unusual punishment. There is overwhelming scientific evidence to support it and the US is one of the few countries in the world that practices is. Iran and China don't even isolate people for extended periods of time because it's recognized as torture. 

Add your quick reply below:
You must be a member to reply to this post.
Join the Meeting Place for Moms!
Talk to other moms, share advice, and have fun!

(minimum 6 characters)

close Join now to connect to
other members!
Connect with Facebook or Sign Up Using Email

Already Joined? LOG IN