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Kalief Browder

English 11
Professor Jillian Hess
May 11, 2015

A Closer Look at Solitary Confinement in the United States

Is solitary confinement a good helpful way to rehabilitate inmates or is solitary
confinement only making matters worse? Solitary confinement is a practice that prison officials
use in order to impose punishment on inmates who break the prison or jail rules. It is when an
inmate is placed and confined in a cell by himself without human contact for a specific amount
of days or sometimes years to reflect on what they did to break the prison or jail rules and
hopefully change their behavior. When an inmate is placed in solitary confinement books,
magazines, phone usage, visits and outdoor recreation are limited and depending on what jail or
prison it is some of these things are prohibited to the inmates. The solitary confinement practice
is often in conflict with the eighth amendment. Instead of solitary confinement rehabilitating
inmates there is evidence of it actually causing severe mental problems for inmates and in the
long run leaving the mental disorders for their families to deal with.
In the United States solitary confinement was said to have started as an experiment in the
19th century for the purpose of punishing misbehaving inmates and also rehabilitating them. The
way solitary confinement is believed to be helpful is that the time spent alone in such
circumstances is a way for inmates to reflect on the misbehaviors they conducted in the jail or
prison and change their behavior. According to Story The first institution in the US to
experiment with isolation was the Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia, built at the end of the 18th

century by members of the Quaker Church with the objective not just of punishing criminals but
also of rehabilitating them. The model was quickly adopted by the original American
penitentiaries, first in Philadelphia at Eastern State and then in Auburn, New York at the
beginning of the 19th century (357). Without solitary confinement being fully tested as in the
health defects of it, the model soon began to spread and other penitentiaries started following the
tradition. However, many health defects were beginning to present themselves within inmates
who have been subjected to solitary confinement. According to Story As early as the 1830s,
reports had started to materialize about the various mental disorders isolated prisoners were
exhibiting. These included hallucinations, dementia, and monomania (357). By the late 1800s
solitary confinement began to be frowned upon because of the adverse mental health issues it
continued to cause to inmates and by the early 1900s it was abolished.
Even with the abolishment of solitary confinement and the developments of the mental
health risk it imposes on inmates the tradition of it did not cease for long, but again continued
and began to spread across the United States. Also according to Story Beginning in the 1960s
and proliferating most systematically over the last 30 years, we have seen a revival of the
practice of solitary confinement in the United States as an increasingly long-term and widereaching practice. Since the early 1980s, the use of isolation has come to be one of the fastestgrowing conditions of detention, even exceeding the expansion of the US prison system in
general over the same period (357). The rise in the use of solitary confinement is believed to be
behind the cause of prison violence. Prison violence is described as multiple factors such as:
fights, weapon usage, gang violence, sexual assaults, drugs, riots and other heinous acts.
According to Silberman Routine violence among inmates occurs as a result of disputes over
drugs, sex, or gambling debts. Prison gangs are often involved due to competition over the

control of the distribution of illegal drugs in prison. Racial or ethnic tension often leads to gang
violence, including sexual assault and murder (1). So due to these different types of prison
violence that goes on, a large debate about whether solitary confinement should be abolished or
at least limited have been being discussed and if abolished how would they deal with the
consistent prison violence?
Evidently in every jail or prison there are always a group or groups of inmates who are
and tend to cause severe harm to other inmates and correction officers so what other alternatives
do they have is in question. As noted in Solitary Confinement, Strict solitary keeps highly
dangerous inmates in conditions where theyre less able to harm prison staff or other inmates or
induce other prisoners to commit violent acts (Katel 768). There are still a great number of
inmates in solitary confinement who arent considered threats but sent there for punishment for
something he or she may have done regardless of how petty it was. A prison official named
Atherton and noted in Solitary Confinement: Supermaxes in many states have expanded
beyond their intended purpose, making what should be, in his view, a standard prisonmanagement tool a matter of controversy. A lot of wardens were locking guys up who were
headaches but manageable under normal circumstances, he says. Thats a huge error (Katel
As a result many inmates undergo many unnecessary mental health problems that are left
up to them and their family members to deal with and fix. Many inmates who go through these
problems of being in solitary confinement are now stuck with mental health issues and some
dont even have health insurance to even tend to their care. There are a lot of mental issues
within inmates and ex-inmates that stem from solitary confinement as noted by Cockrell
physical symptoms are chest pains, weight loss, diarrhea, dizziness, and fainting." There are

many psychological symptoms: decreased ability to concentrate, confusion, memory loss, visual
as well as auditory hallucinations, paranoia, overt psychosis, violent fantasies, anxiety,
depression in huge numbers, lethargy, and trouble sleeping." Attempts to commit suicide are not
uncommon (213).
These mental health issues often send ex-inmates right back to prison because of
misbehaviors that stem from their stay in solitary confinement. These ongoing issues are
breaking and tarring up families because their family members are left to pick up the shattered
pieces of the ex-inmate with severe mental health issues and some of the ex-inmate have neither
family members or health insurance to care for them leaving it a stronger possibility to end up
back in prison due mental misbehaviors that stem from solitary confinement. Due to many rising
issues going on with solitary confinement some states have already started revising how their
prisons use of solitary confinement is to be used; some have limited; some have cut down on
how many inmates are sent there; some have closed down new solitary confinement buildings
and some have abolished having teens in solitary confinement. In July, 2013 in California
prisons, inmates went on a hunger strike to try to abolish solitary confinement. According to
Story That year, about 12 000 prisoners across more than a dozen institutions had used one of
the last powers available to them in their austere conditions the power to stop eating to draw
public attention to the problem of prison isolation (355). For a large number of inmates to starve
themselves to raise attention to the issue of solitary confinement speaks volumes of the mental
tortures it consist of.
Furthermore many people agree that it violates the eighth amendment because many
deem solitary confinement cruel and unusual punishment. In an inmates brief detailed account
of solitary confinement in the article Solitary Confinement is: Stripped naked in a small prison

cell with nothing except a toilet; forced to go to sleep on a concrete floor or slab; denied any
human contact; fed nothing but nutri-loaf; and given just a modicum of toilet paper -four
squares- only a few times (Katel 770). This is just one of millions experience in solitary
confinement although depending on what jail, prison or state youre in the punishment you are
subjugated to while in solitary confinement varies. In most cases of solitary confinement also
including the experience of inmate that was just explained are deemed as cruel and usual
punishment. The eighth amendment is supposed to protect people in the United States against
cruel and unusual punishment but when it comes to the solitary confinement issue it is often
pushed under the rug for one reason or another. Sometimes inmates come to jail with already
mental health issues that varies and are subjugated to solitary confinement which makes their
matters worst in which they should already be under special care depending on how bad their
mental health is. According to Hafemeister and George Housing inmates with a mental disorder
in prolonged supermax solitary confinement deprives them of a minimal life necessity because
this setting poses a significant risk to their basic level of mental health, a need "as essential to
human existence as other basic physical demands, and thereby meets the objective element
required for an Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claim (2).
In conclusion solitary confinement should be looked at as a whole around the United
States and even though changes toward the solitary confinement system have begun in some
states, more needs to be done and addressed around the country. In a lot of jails and prisons there
are a lot of living circumstances and practices that go on within that are not addressed that people
need to shed light on like solitary confinement for example. Maybe another form of punishment
or segregation should be implemented to deal with inmates who break jail rules as opposed to

inmates who cause severe harm to other inmates and correction officers because the mental
health risk it poses are too great.
Cockrell, John F. "Solitary Confinement: The Law Today And The Way Forward." Law &
Psychology Review 37.(2013): 211-227. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
HAFEMEISTER, THOMAS L., and JEFF GEORGE. "The Ninth Circle Of Hell: An Eighth
Amendment Analysis Of Imposing Prolonged Supermax Solitary Confinement On Inmates With A
Mental Illness." Denver University Law Review 90.1 (2012): 1-54. Academic Search Complete.
Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
Katel, Peter. "Solitary Confinement." CQ Researcher 14 Sept. 2012: 765-88. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
Silberman, Matthew. "Prisons, Violence." Encyclopedia of Social Problems. Ed. Vincent N.
Parrillo. Vol. 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2008. 720. Gale Virtual Reference
Library. Web. 17 Mar. 2015
Story, B. "Alone Inside: Solitary Confinement And The Ontology Of The Individual In Modern
Life." Geographica Helvetica 69.5 (2014): 355-364. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 Mar.