For many years, lonely voices in the wilderness have cried out against the abusive use of solitary confinement in American prisons and jails. The pleas for reasonable use of this punishment were ignored because our prison systems were focused on punishment and not rehabilitation. The failure of the punishment policy is demonstrated by the United States having 25% of the world’s inmates, but only 5% of the world’s population. The United States has more prisons and jails than Russia and China.
The United States is also number one for the most inmates, prisons, and prisoners held in solitary confinement. United States leads the world with the most inmates, 80,000, incarcerated in solitary confinement. Prisoners in isolation are often confined to small cells, six feet by nine feet, without windows–unlike the cell in the above picture, with little to no access to the outside world for many months and even years. Inmates are confined to these cells for 23 hours a day. Such extreme isolation has serious psychological effects on inmates who will eventually be released to their community. According to several state studies, fifty percent of prison suicides occur in solitary confinement.
Finally, after years of negotiation between New York and the New York Civil Liberties Union, solitary confinement has changed for the better. Under the agreement,the number of days a prisoner will serve for a first-time, nonviolent offense is maxed at 30, and most violations will have a three-month maximum solitary confinement sentence. The agreement has also reduced the number of violations that carry a solitary confinement punishment. 1,100 of the roughly 4,000 prisoners currently in solitary confinement for minor or nonviolent offenses will be moved into more secure, therapeutic housing units. The agreement has exceptions for inmates who have committed extreme acts of violence and/or who have escaped from prison.
Pennsylvania’s policy with respect to serious mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement changed in January as a result of a settlement between the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania. Many of the Pennsylvania inmates had been placed in solitary confinement for behavioral issues which were caused by their severe mental illnesses.
Pennsylvania inmates were confined to a minimum of twenty three hours a day in isolated cells. The solitary confinement would often aggravate and intensify the mental diseases.Inmates considered dangerous to staff and other inmates will now have a minimum of twenty hours a week outside of their cells under supervision.
Colorado, Mississippi and Washington have also made changes to severely reduce their use of long-term solitary confinement.
Fyodor Dostoevsky: “You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners”.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com