segregation, isolation or restrictive housing
Solitary confinement, also known as segregation, isolation or restrictive housing. It is the practice of isolating inmates in their cell for 23 hours a day. Solitary confinement has been around since the early 1800s. It was made common practice after correctional officers were killed in the 1980s. An inmate can be placed in solitary confinement for many reasons, to protect the correctional officers, to protect the inmates from other inmates or for disciplinary action. It is difficult to determine how many inmates are in solitary confinement across the United States, but it is estimated to be around 100,000. Inmates live in these conditions for extended amounts of time, anywhere from a few days to years. This is something that has a huge negative effect on the mental health of inmates. The increased use of solitary confinement raises major questions on inmate's mental health and the ethics of this practice.
My research is intended to reach prison officials and law makers to understand the possible causes of mental illnesses. It is my goal for this information to be used to make changes within the prison system. Whether it be solitary confinement is regulated given a time frame an inmate can be kept in isolation or getting rid of it completely. After the research I've completed, I believe with the right changes the prison system can change for the better. There are many other things that contribute to the poor prison US prison system, but I believe this in particular will make a major impact.
Imagine spending 23 hours a day in a room about the size of a queen size bed, or a parking space for reference, receiving your meals through a hole in a thick metal door and your single hour outside is often times spent in another cell. Facilitates vary across the US, but for the most part this is common treatment and housing standards for inmates in solitary. While in solitary confinement inmates have no human contact, except the guards putting them in chains. They often times have no visitor privileges. Researchers have found that prolonged stays in solitary confinement has negative effects on the inmates. While in solitary confinement inmates are prone to a wide range of mental health issues. To name a few prominent ones, solitary is known to cause anxiety, depression, anger, paranoia and schizophrenia in inmates.
Inmates can be placed in solitary for a number of reasons. Often times for reasons not related to why they are in prison in the first place. These reasons can be protective custody because of an inmate's sexual orientation or the type of crime they have committed. Being caught with an illegal substance can land someone in solitary, as well as gang affiliation or assaulting or threating a guard.
The comparison of an inmate's behavior and mental state while in solitary verses non-solitary is the easiest way to show just how detrimental solitary confinement is. Researchers have found there is a clear correlation of mental illness and solitary confinement. For the most part psychologist agree that solitary confinement has very negative effects on an inmate's mental health. Being alone and isolated for such long periods of time goes against human nature, a person needs human interaction.
In a regular prison institution inmate are able to interact with other inmates, guards, are allowed regular phone calls and visits and other socializing or group activities. These conditions make life much more bearable than those in solitary confinement. Anderson conducted a study where he interviewed 133 inmates in solitary confinement and 95 inmates in general population. Throughout the study Anderson found that those in isolation were more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder than those in general population. (Anderson).
Craig Haney is a social psychologist and professor. He has done extensive research on solitary confinement. Haney has spoken with over one thousand inmates across the country. Haney states that almost all of the inmates he's met with have some sort of mental illness. Haney conducted a study in a very inhumane California super max prison. Solitary and super max can often times be interchanged. In this study Haney interviewed 100 randomly chosen inmates. inmates. Almost every inmate Haney interviewed suffered from anxiety and nervousness (91 inmates), impending breakdown (70 inmates), trouble sleeping and chronic tiredness (84 inmates each) (Haney). Whether an inmate has an existing mental illness or develops one during their time spent in solitary confinement, there is a connection to solitary and its negative impact.
There is a long way to go in regard to the use of solitary confinement. Just decades ago, states were on the fast track to see who could build the most isolating prison in this day in age many prisons across the united states have begun to back pedal and make changes to the treatment of inmates. Leading the nation in positive treatment of inmates is the state of Colorado. Rick Raemisch, the head of Colorado's department of corrections has ended the use of long-term solitary confinement in the state. Raemisch has limited the time an inmate can spend in solitary confinement to 15 days. This limit follows the Nelson Mandela Rules which is short for The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Rule 44 of 122 states "For the purpose of these rules, solitary confinement shall refer to the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact. Prolonged solitary confinement shall refer to solitary confinement for a time period in excess of 15 consecutive days" (Solitary)
In 2014 Raemisch, looking to learn more about solitary confinement, spent a night in solitary confinement. This experience is what moved Raemicsh to rethink how solitary confinement is used. Solitary confinement simply does not work and Raemicsh felt this and made the change. He believes making this change is beneficial to not only the inmates, but it was necessary for public safety. Because over 90% of inmates are put back into the community with serious mental health issues that have not been addressed solitary needed to end. (Hart)
There have been many states following suit to Colorado's changes in the use of solitary. As of now
Despite the extensive amount of research that shows the negative effects of restrictive housing there are those who critique solitary confinement reform and that this practice is inhumane. Those who oppose these reforms believe that isolation is the only way to punish those who are already being punished by being in prison. ("Inside Solitary Confinement")
According to the Nelson Mandela Rules solitary confinement in excess of 15 days is considered cruel and unusual (although not to unusual in United States prisons) punishment or torture and should be limited to 15 days across the country or eliminated completely. There is no research to show placing an inmate in solitary benefits anyone. Often times inmates leave solitary, if they leave at all during their sentence, leave in a worse state of mind then when they arrived. Inmates describe solitary as "a reprogramming station to show who is in control" ("Inside Solitary Confinement)
Like every topic there is a conservative and liberal view and opinion when it comes to solitary confinement. The liberals believe that solitary confinement is inhumane. Every moment of an inmate's life is controlled during their time in solitary confinement. From mealtime to short computer-controlled showers, these inmates don't have any decisions to make in their day to day life. Not only does solitary confinement cause a vast majority of mental illnesses, there is also a high suicide rate in solitary confinement. it is for these reasons those on the liberal end of the spectrum are against to use of solitary confinement within US prisons. On the other hand, there are the conservatives. On a harsher note those on the conservative side, or those not opposed to solitary confinement in general believe that the use of solitary confinement is the only way to punish a person who is already being punished by being in prison. (Inside Solitary Confinement)
Solitary confinement has proven to be cruel and ineffective. There is little to no regulation in regard to solitary confinement. Prison in itself should be consequence alone. To take the harsh environment the is the penal system and make it even more unbearable is cruel and something should be done to eliminate the use and need of isolation. Human beings need human interaction and the lack of that while spending long periods of time in solitary confinement is detrimental to their mental health, often times causing irreversible issues.