Solitary Confinement

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Solitary Confinement

Postby chaos » Tue Oct 02, 2012 5:39 pm

NPR breifly touches on the negatives effects of solitary confinement. The is a lengthy, compelling piece in a 2009 issue of The New Yorker worth reading. Below is the brief NPR piece.

Many people think that isolation isn't so bad and ask what should be done with people that cannot mingle with the general prison population, so I have posted a few paragraphs from The New Yorker piece that describes an alternative (although the heart of the piece is devoted to the experiences of POWs and people incarcerated in the US).

New Report Sheds Light On Life In Solitary Confinement
October 2, 2012
by EYDER PERALTA

Image
A typical special housing unit (SHU) cell for two prisoners, in use at Upstate Correctional Facility and SHU 20.0.s in New York.

A year-long study released today is providing insight into the effects of solitary confinement in New York state prisons.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New York talked to more than 100 people who spent time in "extreme isolation." In many cases, they received letters from those people.

As The New York Times reports, the men described the experience of losing their minds in "flawed but poignant language."

The Times reports:

"Having been held captive to their imaginations for weeks, months or, occasionally, years on end, the men — many already struggling with mental illness — brought their paranoia, rage, anxiety and hope to life on the page, with descriptions that were sometimes literary and other times nearly impossible to decipher. More than anything, they conveyed a grisly awareness that their identities were unraveling, a feeling so disconcerting for some that they tried to take their own lives. ...

"The letters may add fuel to the national debate over whether holding prisoners in extreme isolation amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Many states have recently shifted away from the practice, which was the subject of federal hearings this summer, but it remains widespread in New York."

As NPR's Carrie Johnson tells our Newscast unit, the ACLU found that 8 percent of the New York prison population is in extreme isolation at any one time. Sixty percent of those are black and the vast majority of them are in prison for non-violent crimes.

"The ACLU wants New York state to identify people who don't belong in solitary confinement and do more to protect vulnerable prisoners," Carrie reports.

One of the more interesting pieces of the report is section IV, called "Life in the Box."

"Prisoners in extreme isolation live in a world of unrelenting monotony, marked by isolation and idleness, where all extrinsic purpose and structure slowly unravels," the report found.

One prisoner, Kevin, said the experience left him feeling "isolated, forgotten, like you don't matter."

"Nobody likes to be alone," he said. "It's not human nature. We're social. When you take that away from a person it's standing still, with nothing. Nothing forward, backward, sideways. You just have you."



http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/30/090330fa_fact_gawande
Is there an alternative? Consider what other countries do. Britain, for example, has had its share of serial killers, homicidal rapists, and prisoners who have taken hostages and repeatedly assaulted staff. The British also fought a seemingly unending war in Northern Ireland, which brought them hundreds of Irish Republican Army prisoners committed to violent resistance. The authorities resorted to a harshly punitive approach to control, including, in the mid-seventies, extensive use of solitary confinement. But the violence in prisons remained unchanged, the costs were phenomenal (in the United States, they reach more than fifty thousand dollars a year per inmate), and the public outcry became intolerable. British authorities therefore looked for another approach.

Beginning in the nineteen-eighties, they gradually adopted a strategy that focussed on preventing prison violence rather than on delivering an ever more brutal series of punishments for it. The approach starts with the simple observation that prisoners who are unmanageable in one setting often behave perfectly reasonably in another. This suggested that violence might, to a critical extent, be a function of the conditions of incarceration. The British noticed that problem prisoners were usually people for whom avoiding humiliation and saving face were fundamental and instinctive. When conditions maximized humiliation and confrontation, every interaction escalated into a trial of strength. Violence became a predictable consequence.

So the British decided to give their most dangerous prisoners more control, rather than less. They reduced isolation and offered them opportunities for work, education, and special programming to increase social ties and skills. The prisoners were housed in small, stable units of fewer than ten people in individual cells, to avoid conditions of social chaos and unpredictability. In these reformed “Close Supervision Centres,” prisoners could receive mental-health treatment and earn rights for more exercise, more phone calls, “contact visits,” and even access to cooking facilities. They were allowed to air grievances. And the government set up an independent body of inspectors to track the results and enable adjustments based on the data.

The results have been impressive. The use of long-term isolation in England is now negligible. In all of England, there are now fewer prisoners in “extreme custody” than there are in the state of Maine. And the other countries of Europe have, with a similar focus on small units and violence prevention, achieved a similar outcome.
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