Criminal Justice 202 section 170W Professor Ronda December 19th 2017 1 Isn’t it interesting that when prisoners of war are held in solitary, it is considered torture but holding other prisoners in solitary confinement isn’t? The conditions that the prisoners are in are not as bad as those of inmates in the United States prisons who spent years and decades in solitary confinement. My focal point for this paper is the practice of solitary confinement. Solitary confinement may be different from one prison to another on how things are handled or dealt with. I presume, that the one thing that ties them all together is the fact that it is to isolate inmates from the prison population for a great amount of time.
As Dan Winters put it, it is brutal. It is torture by definition. It destroys the mind, body, and soul, making rehabilitation next to impossible. It is also outrageously expensive, and it doesn’t work. Yet at the end of the Obama era, and the dawn of Trump’s, isolation is as widely used as ever in the American penal system. And this is what it feels like. In the United States solitary confinement was started as an experiment in the 19th century for the simple reason of punishing inmates for misbehaving, separating gang members and for rehabilitation purposes. It was supposed to work in the way that when inmates were placed in solitary confinement they were supposed to reflect on their bad behavior and to change it.
Prisoners can be placed in isolation for many reasons, from serious infractions, such as fighting with another inmate, to minor ones, like talking back to a guard or getting caught with a pack of cigarettes. Other times, prisoners are thrown into solitary confinement for not breaking any rules at all. Prisons have used solitary confinement as a tool to manage gangs, isolating people for simply talking to a suspected gang member. According to Story “The first institution in the US to experiment with isolation was the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia, built at the end of the 18th century by members of the Quaker Church with the objective not just of punishing criminals but also rehabilitating them. The model was quickly adopted by the original American penitentiaries, first in Philadelphia at Eastern State and then in Auburn, New York at the beginning of the 19th century” (357). Without this form of punishment being tested for the extreme negative effects that it can have on individuals, it was rampant at other penitentiaries and the negative effects were coming to the forefront but that didn’t stop them from expanding. There are around 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement in the United States, costing around $6,240,000,000 a year to keep in solitary confinement (Rodriguez).
Solitary is characterized by inmates spending between 22 and 23 hours locked in a small cell, usually between 6×9 to 8×10 feet in size. According to an article by CNN Solitary confinement: 29 years in a box, all contact is limited, physical contact is almost nonexistent, and contact with the outside world is sometimes limited to phone calls or video chats. Inmates are rarely allowed access to a radio, TV, or reading materials, all of which can help, but the effects of solitary can and will still occur. As the article The science of solitary confinement on smithsonian.com a majority of those surveyed experienced symptoms such as dizziness, heart palpitations, chronic depression, while 41 percent reported hallucinations, and 27 percent had suicidal thoughts—all levels significantly higher than those of the overall prison populations. The effects of solitary confinement on the human mind can be and often are: depression, paranoia, thought of suicides, hallucinations, anxiety, panic, insomnia, paranoia, aggression and depression.
The effects of solitary are also physical, the place inmates are taken for exercise are often not much larger than their cells, making exercising difficult. Also due to the confined space vision can be affected, causing nearsightedness and cataracts as well as panic attacks and increased risk of a heart attack. According to American Friends Service Committee, Prison isolation fits the definition of torture as stated in several international human rights treaties, and thus constitutes a violation of human rights law. The U.N. Convention Against Torture defines torture as any state-sanctioned act “by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for information, punishment, intimidation, or for a reason based on discrimination. Since the 1990s, the U.N.
Committee Against Torture has repeatedly condemned the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. In 2011, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture warned that solitary confinement “can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities, or juveniles.
” In 2014, AFSC submitted a “shadow report” to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, featuring testimonies from people subjected to long-term isolation.
People in solitary can find it difficult to get access to necessary medicines, as well as access to doctors or mental help. Solitary confinement has been associated with many psychological problems and this information has been out there. I believe that solitary confinement is a violation of the eighth amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
This also is an inhumane punishment. Most of the people in solitary confinement haven’t even done anything worth this kind of maximum banishment from the prison population. Solitary confinement interferes with the way that the mind functions and process, most times the damage is long term and can’t be repaired. Most of these prisoners are later released from prison at the end of their sentences and are faced with a new problem, their mental disability as a direct result of the time they spent in solitary confinement. This new mental disability can have a very negative and dangerous impact on communities because that person may now turn to doing even worse crime than what they were initially in prison for and this can lead to higher recidivism rates. Just saying that solitary confinement can have treacherous side effects on the human mind doesn’t explain enough, as more is being revealed about how this type of punishment can affect humans. It is not a secret what solitary confinement does to an inmate it is very clear and easy to see in the people that have been in solitary for years upon years. This problem can be split into two classifications.
In the article Solitary Confinement, an inmate recounts his time in solitary confinement “Stripped naked in a small prison cell with nothing except a toilet; forced to go to sleep on a concrete floor or slab; denied any human contact; fed nothing but ‘nutri-loaf,’ and given just a modicum of toilet paper- four squares only a few times (Katel 770). There are problems with this form of punishment that are based on the 8th Amendment that is supposed to protect people from cruel and unusual punishment which means that the criminal justice system is supposed to steer clear of punishments that are cruel and unusual which means they should be evaluating the way they use solitary confinement because there have been plenty of evidence that this punishment can cause crucial long term psychological damage to prisoners. The mental health issues that these ex-inmates face lands them right back in prison because of the side effects from their stay in solitary confinement.
These issues are breaking up families because their families are left to deal with an ex inmate with critical mental health issues and some of them don’t have health insurance or family members to take care of them which makes it harder for them to stay out of prison due to their bad behavior that are cause from solitary confinement. According to an article on Frontline “A 2003 report by Human Rights Watch found that anywhere from one-fifth to two-thirds of prisoners in solitary confinement are believed to have some form of mental illness. Justice Department guidelines have recognized that the mentally ill 2may not be fit for solitary, as extreme isolation may cause inmates’ psychiatric conditions to dramatically deteriorate.
In one instance, a mentally ill inmate at the Tamms supermax prison in3 Illinois declined to the point where he mutilated his own genitalia.” Also, solitary confinement not only impacts the prisoner negatively but can be dangerous for civilians upon the release of that person. Solitary confinement is not only being used on people who are locked away for the rest of their life it is being used on people who are going to be released at some point to the general population. Which means that the criminal justice system should punish these people so that they are not going to commit crime again and not a menace to society, worse than when they entered the justice system. If the criminal justice system cannot rehabilitate then it has a responsibility to make sure that it is not creating more danger for society by using this this practice. Solitary confinement is a broken theory of punishment because it has been proven to be ineffective and causes more harm than good. One thing it might be good for is lowering bad behavior by removing them from the population.
Solitary confinement could probably still be used but after using other methods that haven’t worked but not the way it is being used right now. It should be used less often and for shorter time periods. Rick Raemisch visited a solitary confinement cell in Colorado in 2014. After his visit, in 2015 he worked with the State Department and other United Nations countries to remodel the international standards for the treatment of prisoners which is known as the Nelson Mandela Rules. After a few debates is was determined that keeping someone in solitary confinement for more than 15 days is torture. As of September, the practice of solitary confinement has ended. Now, inmates who commit serious violations like assault will only spend at most 15 days in solitary, and, if necessary, undergo therapy or anger management classes afterward.
Today, there are only 18 inmates in such segregation, and we deal with minor offenses like mouthing off in less severe ways. Colorado has ended long-term solitary because the state has developed alternatives to its use. This is a good step in the right direction and I hope the rest of the United States takes that step sooner rather than later. In summation, it is time for this unethical tool to be removed from the penal toolbox. Solitary confinement is a notion that has been popular in the United States because politicians have become tough on crime.
But research says otherwise, that this practice is very dangerous on humans. It denies prisoners of their constitutional rights and creates a dangerous world for not only the inmate but the people around that inmate, be it in the prison population after being released from solitary or in the general population after being released from prison. Supermax prisons will always be a problem as long as they are around and the fact that they are not house prisoners without violating their constitutional rights. Then they should be shut down completely.