Solitary Confinement: The Antithesis of Rehabilitation

A recent article in GQ offers a horrifying look at the use of solitary confinement in America’s prison system.  GQ interviewed 48 current and former prisoner in addition to correction officials, attorneys, researchers and activists.  This is a must read article for all criminal defense attorneys and attorneys advocating for prisoner rights.  In essence, in the mind of this reader, solitary confinement is devoid of rehabilitation.  Its pure punishment, if not torture with financial and societal costs.

Financial Toll:

According to the article, “solitary is twice as expensive per capita as maximum-security prison.”

Human / Societal Toll:

“A body of literature going back decades documents the psychic anguish of isolation— severe depression, rage, panic attacks, PTSD, paranoia, hallucinations, self-mutilation. The suicide rate in solitary is five to ten times higher than it is in the general prison population. In studies, only a few groups have ever reported feeling as crushed by loneliness as these prisoners do—among them terminally ill cancer patients and people in rural communities who are suffering from AIDS. “Solitary confinement,” Justice Anthony Kennedy told Congress in March of 2015, “literally drives men mad.””

The article refers to solitary confinement as an “American Gulag”.  ”

“According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of prisoners in solitary on any given day is approximately 90,000. No national database exists to track who they are, how long they’ve been held there, or why. Compared with free citizens, they are at least five times as likely to be mentally ill. A City of New York study suggests they are nearly three times as likely as prisoners in the general population to be black and nearly twice as likely to be Latino.”

Unless the problems associated with solitary confinement are addressed and there appears to be many, I suspect the statistics will only get worse with an ever growing, expanding prison population and a renewed commitment to the development of private prisons.  I was shocked at how whimsically solitary confinement is doled out.  The discretionary bar for imposition of it appears low.

To read the GQ article in its entirety … here’s the link.