In solitary confinement, people are kept in closed cells for over 22 hours a day, free from any sort of human contact over a period ranging between days to decades.
Use of solitary confinement was largely discontinued in the US in 1890 but was re-implemented in the 1980's as part of the “War on Drugs”. Today there are about 100,000 individuals in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, county jails, immigrant detention centers, and youth centers.
University of Pittsburgh Law Professor, Jules Lobel cited reasons why solitary confinement must be banned as it violates the Eighth Amendment, and the right to due process under the U.S. Constitution.
"Researchers have concluded you shouldn't keep lab animals in this kind of solitary confinement. Why should we treat people that way?" Lobel asked.
"We are social creatures and to take away that social nature from us deprives us of a basic human need," Lobel said. "The courts have recognized that even if you're in prison, you can't be deprived of basic human needs."
Over the past 20 years, corrections systems have increasingly relied on solitary confinement that includes building entire prison complexes called “Supermax Prisons”, which cost up to 3 times as much to keep a prisoner in solitary (about $77,000/prisoner/yr.), as it does to keep them in the general prison population. Prisons that reduced their use of isolation by up to 75% saw decreases in prison violence, as well as a decreased recidivism rate.
After spending 29 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana, Robert King noticed his vision significantly declined during that time. Doctors at the prison confirmed his 20/20 vision during his arrival at prison, but eventually he needed a pair of glasses.
"I could not make a face out six feet in front of me — even my brother or mother," King said.
He also faced trouble while navigating through his surroundings, "If I'm around one corner of my house, by the time I get to the next corner, I'm lost. I'm embarrassed," he said.
Despite African-Americans representing around 14% of the entire population, this demographic comprises 38% of all incarcerated persons and 60% of the people forced into solitary confinement. In as little as one and a half weeks, solitary confinement has been proven to impact individuals in a psychologically negative manner. It is often compared to torture and often linked to suicide in prison.
According to the ACLU, after Mississippi decreased its solitary population from 1000 to 150 and shut down their Supermax prison, the state saved 8$ million/year.
- Solitary Watch: “In States That "Reduce Their Use of Solitary Confinement, Suffering Continues for Those Left Behind” ~
- ACLU: State Reforms to Use Limit the Use of Solitary Confinement
- UTNE: “Solitary Confinement and Supermax Prisons - A closer look at the latest U.S. export to Brazil – the supermax prison system.”