The United States is number one for the most inmates, prisons, and prisoners held in solitary confinement. United States also 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 years. Inmates are confined to these cells for 23 hours a day. For many inmates, the confinement can be for many months and even years. 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.
Yesterday, on May 6, a rally was held in Albany to support a new bill introduced in the New York Assembly and Senate to halt and restrict the excessive use of solitary confinement. The proposed bill would not allow solitary confinement of inmates under the age of 22 or over 55, any inmate with mental or physical disabilities, pregnant mothers, new mothers, and prisoners who are gay or appear to be gay.
For all other inmates, solitary confinement would be restricted to three days for rules violations, and 15 consecutive days for serious offenses. The bill would allow more out-of-cell-time and more recreation.
Recently the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision agreed in February to a package of reforms because of a lawsuit filed by three New York inmates. The state agreed to end the punishment of solitary confinement for inmates under the age of eighteen, limit the use of the punishment for pregnant women and inmates who are developmentally challenged.
A keynote speaker at the rally, author, philosopher, and Princeton University Professor, Dr. Cornel West, stated “there is no language to describe the damage caused by such isolation. Can you imagine yourself (or) myself under solitary confinement?” He asked. “Would that bring out the positive aspects of who we are? I don’t think so. I think that’s true for any human being.”
As of May 6, 2014, there are 3,268 inmates held in solitary confinement in New York state prisons. This number does not include inmates held in solitary confinement in the 123 county and local jails.
By Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com