Many get an idea of what is being discussed when they hear the term “solitary confinement” but what does it really mean for the subject? What exactly does it mean when an inmate is sent to solitary confinement?
While the conditions of solitary confinement differ among states and facilities, there are some policies and conditions some of which are highlighted below.
It always includes confinement behind a steel door for periods of 22 to 24 hours daily with severely curtailed contact with the outside world. Their access to rehabilitative programming is highly limited as are non-contact family visits. They are subjected to no touch torture such as sensory deprivation, extreme lighting, and temperature levels.
There isn’t a federal reporting system regarding the people confined in solitude, but statistics from the Bureau of Justice suggest there are well over 80,000 inmates in the US held in solitary confinement.
The periods of confinement can vary from weeks to years for some inmates. Reasons that warrant isolation range widely from serious infractions such as infighting to petty ones such as talking back to the wardens or possession of prohibited stuff.
Some inmates have been “sent to the hole” for nothing more than talking to people suspected of gang membership or political activism which is the management’s way of managing gang activity or punishing such political activity.
This brings us to the effects of such confinement, most devastating of which are psychological. Symptoms by which they may manifest themselves include hallucinations- audio or visual due to the long periods of solitude under unconducive conditions.
Some experience insomnia and paranoia, which may also include hypersensitivity to sound and touch. Deprived contact with the outside world tends to isolate a person, resulting in them having distortions in time and perception. Depression and uncontrollable feelings of rage and fear may push the inmates to have suicidal tendencies.
It is prohibited to contact one’s loved ones while in the solitary cell. An inmate can’t call his relatives and friends, so they don’t know what actually happened. Can you imagine loosing contact without any notification for a long time?
When they finally get out of isolation, most inmates exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. These symptoms are universally severe but exceptionally magnified in juvenile and mentally ill subjects who constitute more than a third of all prisoners.
Torture is defined in the UN Convention against Torture as any act sanctioned by the state by which severe pain or suffering, physical or mental is intentionally inflicted upon a person for any reason. This qualifies solitary confinement as torture, as a result of which the UN Committee against Torture has repeatedly condemned its use in the US. This is the violation of basic prisoners’ rights.
In light of all these, prisoners and their families have taken to the front to enlighten the public and policymakers on this cruel practice via coalitions they have formed for that purpose.
Politicians and prominent figures have joined the calls for an end to long-term solitary confinement. The Senate has made calls for the US Bureau of Prisons to make reforms regarding isolation. In the recent past, some states have taken to reforms in this respect, some curtailing its use and others abolished its use on juveniles and the mentally ill.
These are merely baby steps in a long journey, and much remains to be done to rid the system of solitary confinement for the general good of all humanity.