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Working to End Solitary Confinement

April 1, 2009

A recent New Yorker article by Atul Gawande chronicles the torturous use of solitary confinement in the U.S. prison system. Sen. John McCain–one of the most famous victims of torture in recent American history–has spoken out against solitary confinement, American courts of a century ago warned against the negative effects of confinement, and the Geneva Convention prohibits extended periods of solitary confinement. Despite these set-backs, American prisons are incarcerating criminals in supermax facilities in record numbers. Solitary began in Philadelphia and is being perfected across the country.

Extended solitary confinement often leads to complete psychosis and mental breakdowns. Prison wardens claim that solitary helps stem inmate violence but evidence suggests that sequestering the most violent inmates does nothing to reduce prison violence rates–in some studies, violence actually increases. Gawande’s article suggests that the penal system itself creates violence among its inmates because recent budget restrictions have slashed inmate education and recreation programs. An increasing prison population with increasing idle time is a recipe for increased violence and trouble within the prison walls. He outlines a recent development in British prisons–similar to half-way houses with less freedom–that has proved quite effective at reducing inmate violence.

Solitary confinement is a dangerous method that has been proven ineffective at curbing violence, rehabilitating criminals, and controlling gang activity in prisons. Organizations like AFSC are working to end the torture of American citizens (groups like CEML criticize solitary as an example of systemic racism) but prison officials are powerless to change unless the general public sentiment toward solitary changes.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Alex permalink
    April 6, 2009 11:14 am

    It’s like taking away recess from the rowdier kids–a logically unsound punishment.

    I appreciate your stance on social justice. It’s refreshing.

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