According to the American Civil Liberties Union, approximately 80,000 people are kept in solitary confinement in the United States. Although a number of the inmates are in solitary confinement because these individuals are dangerous to others or are in solitary confinement for their own protection, many inmates are placed in solitary confinement because of serious mental illness or are being punished for minor infractions. In early July, thousands of inmates refused meals and work to protest California’s wide spread use of solitary confinement. More than 300 inmates have refused all meals since the strike began on July 8.
In 2012, Amnesty International denounced solitary confinement in two California prisons, calling it “cruel, degrading and inhumane.” It noted that often “prisoners are confined for relatively minor infractions of rules or disruptive behavior.” California currently has more than 10,000 inmates in solitary confinement. Hundreds of prisoners have lived under these terrible conditions, in isolation, for decades.
Representatives for the inmates on the hunger strike had a one hour meeting this past Friday with the state prisons chief. The discussion revolved around the end of intolerable prison conditions. Mediators issued a statement after the meeting with Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard, which offered ideas for ending the hunger strike and improving prison conditions that included indeterminate sentences in isolation units.
In fairness to California, many other states such as Texas and Arizona use solitary confinement as an arbitrary and capricious punishment. The correctional systems should impose strict regulations and oversight of the use of solitary confinement. Without a system of checks and balances, we will continue to see inmates with mental illnesses, juveniles, and prisoners who have committed minor infractions languish in solitary confinement for many more years.