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Our nation’s battle with solitary confinement

Meghan Kier, Co-Editor and Chief

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In recent years, a new topic of study has emerged, the correlation between mental illness of prisoners and solitary confinement. The question is whether solitary confinement is helpful or hurtful to the psychology of prisoners?

Solitary confinement is not a punishment given to prisoners because of their crimes committed before sentencing. Solitary confinement or isolation is given as a punishment to the prisoners who are deemed disruptive and unruly after they have been put behind bars.

An estimated 75,000 state and federal prisoners in the united states are held in isolation, according to prison experts. Most spend 23 or more hours a day in their cells, allowed out only for showers, brief exercise or activities like visiting the medic.

One of the most well known solitary confinement prisons is Pelican Bay. Pelican Bay is notoriously known to break their inmates even after their time at Pelican Bay is completed. Most prisoners are sent to Pelican Bay for fear of their participation or leadership in violent gangs within the prisons.

Some inmates are kept in Pelican Bay for days, weeks, months and years at a time with little to no human interaction during their imprisonment.

Craig Haney, a social psychologist studied a group of inmates in isolation at Pelican Bay State Prison. he found that inmates sealed of from human contact and interaction suffer a torture described as social death.

“Sealed for years in a hermetic environment — one inmate likened the prison’s solitary confinement unit to ‘a weapons lab or a place for human experiments’ — prisoners recounted struggling daily to maintain their sanity. They spoke of longing to catch sight of a tree or a bird. Many responded to their isolation by shutting down their emotions and withdrawing even further, shunning even the meager human conversation and company they were afforded.”

Solitary Confinement has caught the attention of countless Americans who believe that this widespread practice is barbaric and inhumane. In 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights advocated for the inmates of Pelican Bay by filling a suit in federal court. They claimed that elongated isolation in solitary confinement inflicts upon their rights to the Eighth Amendment.

Studies found that suicides among isolation inmates account for 50 percent of prison suicides.

“The state’s gang policy shifted after several hunger strikes by inmates at Pelican Bay and other prisons and criticism by civil rights groups. The corrections department now uses different criteria to place inmates in isolation, and it has created a program that allows them to eventually work their way out.”

Even with a system to help inmates work their way out of isolation, it is still slow and harmful to the inmates. the prisoners will still have to do hard time in solitary and that will lead to fatal effects during and after.

During one of the interviews that Mr. Haney conducted one of the inmates stated “If you put a parakeet in a cage for years and you take it out, it will die,”.

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Our nation’s battle with solitary confinement