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Solitary Confinement Without a Reason

Nick Englehart

Posted on April 13, 2020 20:09

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Life is much worse for 61,000 Americans every day. Their humanity is hidden behind their crimes.

    You’re going a little crazy, aren’t you? I’m going a little crazy and I’m used to it. I spent five months unemployed. The difference now is that I don’t have the option to stop. You don’t have the option to, either. You could have complete financial security, a beautiful mansion, an incredible family, and you still might find yourself clawing at a window or waving to a squirrel. Just look at any celebrity. So imagine how you feel, surrounded by your loved ones, surrounded by almost unlimited things to do, surrounded by freedom -- and then imagine what it's like in solitary confinement. 

    At least 61,000 people are held in solitary confinement across the United States on any given day. During that time they spend around 23 hours in a possibly windowless 8 by 10 cell. They are given one hour a day of exercise in a similar-sized cage that happens to be outdoors. Some people are held in solitary confinement for up to forty years. 

    The practice was reborn in the 1980's. Politicians attempting to be tough on crime, and find a way to control criminal behavior, to make prisons safer advocated for solitary confinement. Their reasoning was not factually based. A large study out of the University of Cincinnati found no evidence of any effect of solitary on subsequent violent misbehavior.

    Solitary confinement is considered a form of torture by the United Nations. A form of torture that takes its toll mentally. The hippocampus, the part of the brain relating to learning, memory, and spatial awareness literally shrinks. Robert King, an ex-inmate who spent 29 years in solitary reported that after his release he couldn’t remember faces, directions, or places. He had to “retrain his eyes to learn what a face was like.”

    This isn’t a simple federal regulatory fix either. In 2016 President Obama redefined the use of solitary confinement. He banned its usage for persons under 18 and limited its use on adults. However, this only applies to federal prisons, 10% of current facilities. States like California and North Dakota have done what they can, but private prisons often find loopholes to ignore any change. 

The Supreme Court has stated that what counts as “cruel and unusual punishment” in the Eighth Amendment must “draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Luckily for us, we get to decide what a maturing society means. We get to decide if we want to torture people who have committed a crime, or if we want to rehabilitate them. We get to decide how we treat people. They may have committed a crime, but that doesn’t mean we get to take away their humanity. 

Nick Englehart

Posted on April 13, 2020 20:09

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Source: NPR
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