In the first-ever hearing of its kind, a Senate panel heard testimony this week on the psychological and human rights implications of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. While defenders of solitary confinement claim it is needed to control the most violent prisoners, many of the people called to testify at the hearing described how it can cause intense suffering and mental illness.
For most of his 12 years on death row, Anthony Graves lived in what he called an 8-foot by 12-foot “cage.” To see outside he would stand on top of his rolled up plastic mattress and look through a small window at the top of the concrete wall in the back of his cell. He spent 22, sometimes 24, hours a day in this room.
“Solitary confinement does one thing, it breaks a man’s will to live and he ends up deteriorating. He’s never the same person again,” said Graves, who served more than 18 years in a Texas prison before being exonerated of all crimes in 2010.
Speaking at what was described as the first congressional hearing about solitary confinement, Graves told a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee that solitary confinement is “inhumane and by its design is driving men insane.”
Psychological studies indicate that approximately one-third of prisoners in solitary confinement suffer from mental illness and 50 percent of prison suicides occur in solitary confinement, said Craig Haney, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Earlier this month, the Center for Constitutional Rights sued the state of California for its practice of isolating prison inmates with a suspected gang affiliation. The lawsuit focuses on 300 inmates who have been held at Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit for more than a decade.
Charles Samuels, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, told the committee that inmates are only placed in solitary confinement to protect the safety of the prison population. The bureau attempts to limit time spent in solitary confinement and seriously mentally ill inmates are not supposed to be placed in solitary confinement, he said.
“Inmates who are disruptive or aggressive to others endanger the security of our institutions,” Samuels said. “Removing and segregating them from the general population allows us to continue to operate institutions.”…
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one had, if you are stupid enough to cause problems, you should be isolated. On the other hand, there are cases where the person who gets punished was not the actual trouble-maker. Sometimes another inmate sets them up. No matter how bad someone is, they should not be tortured. Isolation seems like the least worst thing they can come up with to change problem behavior, but I don’t know. I’ve never been inside and I’m not sure how prisons could be realistically reformed.
My hope is that the entire prison population can be permanently be cured with brain rewiring. That’s 3.5 million people in just the US and China according to these statistics. Fix their brains and get them back into society as productive people. I think that is what a truly advanced species would do.We first need to better understand the brain and criminal behavior better.