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Solitary Confinement-Problem or Solution?

Updated on May 25, 2014
Eastern State Pen-First jail designed for solitary confinement
Eastern State Pen-First jail designed for solitary confinement
Eastern State Prison
Eastern State Prison
Door to the outside world
Door to the outside world
New and Improved-Now resembles an exhibit at the zoo
New and Improved-Now resembles an exhibit at the zoo

Every year, over 80,000 inmates all over America are held in solitary confinement as punishment for various crimes committed while already behind bars. Many say that this is the only way to ensure prison workers and other inmates safety with violent and disruptive individuals. Others see it as torture that has permanent psychological and physical damage. The area of the brain where loneliness registers, is also the same part that registers physical pain.

Solitary confinement was first used in the late 1800’s in Pennsylvania. The ideal behind it was that a person would be in a silent environment in which they would have time to repent. The facilities were the best and many other prisons were modeled after their example. There was no common population, every cell was by itself, everyone was in solitary confinement. Decades later, statistics showed that the inmates were by far worse.

Psychosis in more than half of the inmates studied, others became more violent. The results of the scientific studies in the end, shut down the facility that hadn't started it all and most of the world stopped the practice of solitary confinement. America is one of the only countries that still use it as a standard punishment for inmates. Maybe because of that, America has more people incarcerated per capita then anywhere else in the world. Inmates that spend over 6 months in solitary confinement have 25 percent higher chance of returning within 3 years. That makes the number 75% instead of 50%, kind of scary. An inmate in solitary confinement is also 14 times more likely to commit suicide.

Many people just simply don’t care. No matter the crime, once a person walks through a prisons door, they somehow lose their humanity to most of the general public. But whether you care or not, you should. If solitary confinement is as damaging as it appears to be, these people may one day be your neighbor, sit beside you on the bus and many other interactions daily. Every year thousands of inmates are released directly from solitary confinement, some after 10 or more years in isolation. To be caged like an animal for 23 hours a day for so many years, transitioning back in to society is virtually impossible, as seen by the percentage that return. Such a huge transition could understandably be hard for former inmates making them become overwhelmed resulting in irrational and impulsive behavior.

To me, it is unclear why this type of punishment has not been improved upon in over a hundred and twenty years. Is permanently destroying a human being worth the price of more law and order? Dare I ask, what are the alternatives?


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