June 27, 2012
“The Torture of Isolation” is the title of a post on Andrew Sullivan’s hugely popular blog The Dish, at the Daily Beast. The post features a new video from Reason TV, a project of the libertarian foundation that also publishes Reason magazine. Reason’s editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie interviews SW’s James Ridgeway on solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails.
Also referenced in Sullivan’s post is a new piece by Time magazine’s legal columnist Adam Cohen, titled “It’s Time to End Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons“–one of many editorial, op-eds, and articles that follow up on the historic June 19 Senate hearing on solitary. Cohen writes:
Solitary confinement takes a brutal toll on anyone subjected to it — often pushing them past the breaking point. At last week’s congressional hearing, one former inmate — who was released from a Texas prison in 2010 after being exonerated — said that solitary confinement is “by its design driving men insane.” About half of suicides and a disproportionate amount of cases of self-mutilation occur among inmates in solitary. It is not just modern sensibilities that are offended by the cruelty of solitary confinement. Charles Dickens called it a “dreadful” punishment and declared it mentally torturous in ways that “none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow creatures.”Also see the latest batch of strongly worded editorials opposing the use and abuse of solitary confinement, not only in the New York Times, but also in smaller papers like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Toledo Blade. Or Google “solitary confinement Senate hearing” to view the widespread coverage this event received. And consider that just two years ago, it was highly rare to see any mention of this issue outside of Solitary Watch–a tribute to the prisoners, advocates, and grassroots activists who have made solitary confinement in America increasingly impossible to ignore.
Rather than reserving solitary confinement for the most vicious, unrepentant criminals, American prisons dole it out in heaping portions — and often for no good reason. Some inmates are put in solitary confinement for repeated violations of minor prison rules. There was a report at the congressional hearing of a prisoner who was caught with 17 packs of cigarettes and given 15 days for each pack, or eight months. Worse still: many inmates are put in solitary not because they have done anything wrong, but for their own protection. This includes victims of in-prison attacks and sexual assaults, gay inmates and children.
Adding to the numbers: the 1990s boom in Supermax prisons, which were built to house inmates in solitary confinement. One 2005 study found that 40 states were operating Supermax, or similar-styled, prisons, which held 25,000 inmates. But many ordinary prisons also place inmates in solitary — generally at the unchecked discretion of corrections officials.