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What Isolation Does

W. Scott Cole

Posted on April 13, 2018 01:23

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Long term segregation in prisons is harmful to inmates, who are still human beings, and dangerous for society. It should be considered cruel and unusual punishment for many reasons, only one of which is discussed here.

Humans are social creatures. In order to be mentally and emotionally healthy, everyone needs contact with other people on a regular basis. Yet there is a large segment of the prison population that is intentionally denied this important need. Segregation is used to isolate inmates, either as punishment or as a long term option to handle inmates the deemed a danger to themselves and/or others.

There are two kinds of segregation: One is called "disciplinary segregation." It is where inmates find themselves when they violate the rules of the prison they are confined in. Disciplinary segregation usually lasts no more than a week to a month. The other is "administrative segregation." The inmates in administrative segregation are there for months or years.

Disciplinary segregation is an accepted, expected fact of prison life. The vast majority of inmates will find themselves there at some point during their prison term.

Administrative segregation is a whole other animal. Inmates in segregation have little to no contact with the outside world. They are handed their meals through a slot in their door by staff who do not talk to them. They are locked in a cell that is 80 square feet. A horse stall is bigger. They are allowed out of their cell for one hour a day. They can take a ten minute shower and/or exercise. Some of them are allowed a phone call once a week as a privilege. They are alone except for staff anytime they are out of their cell. When they exercise, it is in a cage that is little bigger than their cell. Any time they are outside their cell, except when they are in the exercise cage, they are handcuffed and shackled. No other inmates are allowed out of their cells at the same time they are out of their cell.

Put yourself in that situation. How long could you handle that kind of isolation? If you already had emotional and mental problems, as many inmates do, how much worse would that kind of isolation make those problems?

Justice Department Guidelines have recognized that long-term segregation causes the conditions of mentally ill inmates to dramatically deteriorate. A Senate Panel called for a ban on long-term segregation for mentally ill inmates. Corrections officials claim the practice is used to help ensure the safety of prison staff and other inmates, but there is no proof that the practice has any impact on staff or inmate safety. Yet, the practice is rampant in America’s prisons and increasing. The federal Supermax Prison in Florence, Colorado, is well known for their isolation of what they call the worst of the worst.

The worst problem? A large percentage of these inmates finish their sentences in segregation. They are released directly onto the streets with no treatment, where they are an increased danger to themselves and all of society.

Isn’t it time to do something about long term segregation?

W. Scott Cole

Posted on April 13, 2018 01:23

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