Final Arguing Cause Claire

Wanted: Solitary Confinement Reform

“I have served a sentence worse than death” William Blake confessed in his essay (Blake). William Blake has been in solitary confinement for 26 years. His personal account demonstrates how solitary confinement has become something out of a horror movie. Imagine being confined to a cell no bigger than a small bathroom. The only way to pass the time is to pace the cell, look out the small window or listen to the mad ranting’s coming from the inmate in the cell over. The only human contact someone in solitary confinement has is when the correctional officer walks by to check on them or to give them food. Most people who end up in solitary confinement got there because they went against jail or prison rules or they are there for their own protection. A child rapist will make his home there unless he wants to face the general population and hope for the best.

Solitary confinement started back in 1829. It was influenced by the Quaker’s belief that if a person were confined to a small cell with only a bible in their possession, they would spend the time praying and repenting (Sullivan). The opposite happened. Inmates deprived of simple human contact went insane, committed suicide and some could no longer function in society. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller finds, "A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community." (Sullivan). It has been proven that solitary confinement is not an answer.

The Religious Society of friends, also called the Quakers, or friends for short, began in the seventeenth century. They believe god is within all of us, called our "inner light". Their founder was George fox (Staff.) The Quakers are believed to be the founders of solitary confinement yet, they believed that god was love and they strove to make the world a better place (BBC). So how could they come up with something like solitary confinement? They had good intentions, believing that confining a person to a small closet would help them. They wanted to help but, they didn't. It would have worked if instead of confining them they could have simply given them a bible and a little social contact. People come up with ideas that do not always work out. It's like William Edward Hickson puts it, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again". A better rehabilitation technique will come around.

Solitary confinement is not an effective rehabilitation technique. In some circumstances it is necessary when a dangerous inmate needs to be separated from the general population, but it is inhumane if they are kept confined in such a small space for more than a few days. Locking people away and hoping they will get better it is not a form of rehabilitation. We learned that from the Quakers (Staff). In order to help someone they need to actually get help. It is equivalent to thinking that if you can’t see the problem, the problem will either fix itself or go away. “I’ve experienced times so difficult and felt boredom and loneliness to such a degree that it seemed to be a physical thing inside so thick it felt like it was choking me, trying to squeeze the sanity from my mind, the spirit from my soul, and the life from my body” wrote William Blake (Blake). So some inmates need a timeout to calm down. That's fine, its understandable. Put them in solitary confinement for a little while then let them out if they are showing signs of cooperation. If they are still riled up let them stew a little longer. Most inmates spend years in solitary confinement. Does anyone really need that long to cool down? Of course some inmates are in solitary confinement for their own safety so that is a little different. But inmates who simply broke a rule should be given a little leeway. If they break another rule when they are released into the general population put them back into solitary confinement and restrict their access to certain activities they are allowed while confined. Treat them like a little kid getting punished for hitting his sister. When punished correctly and effectively they will stop. Most inmates in prison are grown adults. They will learn more quickly that if they behave they can go back to the general population instead of being in the cramped confines of sig, as inmates in Maine State Penitentiary like to call it (Frontline).

Solitary confinement involves confining a person to a cell usually no bigger than a small bathroom, approximately 6 x 9 or 8 x 10 feet. The door is either solid metal with a small slot for the tray of food to pass through, or the door is barred like most normal jail cells. An inmate is confined to their cell for between 22 and 24 hours depending on where they are. Along with having restricted social contact, inmates also lose out on any, "…opportunity to work or attend prison programming, and sometimes banned from having televisions, radios, art supplies, and even reading materials in their cells" (Rodriguez). Solitary confinement has been proven to cause many problems including: Visual and auditory hallucinations, hypersensitivity to noise and touch, insomnia and paranoia, uncontrollable feelings of rage and fear, distortions of time and perception, increased risk of suicide, and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)(Rodriguez). It has been known, ever since Solitary Confinement was created that it is an inhumane way to hold prisoners and instead of rehabilitating prisoners it makes them worse. Prison is a punishment, but it should also be a form of rehabilitation. Instead of spending the money sending them back and forth money should be spent on making them a decent person, fit to walk among law abiding citizens in society. They can contribute to society instead of slow it down.

There are multiple reasons why solitary confinement is not an effective method of rehabilitation. Insufficient mental health care is one of those reasons. Doctor Morgan has noted, "only 6 percent of psychologists work in prisons" (62). A normal person can handle a “time-out” but everyone needs a break. Allow the prisoner/inmate time to socialize either with a counselor or another inmate as long as no danger is evident. If the inmate is dangerous give them a book to read or music to listen to. This will calm them down and help them cope (62). If they are left to stew their negative emotions will only get worse. A method used by the psychologist Doctor Morgan is called "Crisis Intervention" (62.) This method helps keep the prison safe by meeting with an inmate who has been in solitary confinement or segregation for almost 24 hours. Especially if he is becoming increasingly agitated such as threatening the guards or other inmates, or he is showing signs of psychosis or depression due to being isolated (62).

Attending to inmates' basic mental health needs also helps with prison safety, Morgan says. Take a prisoner who has been placed in "lockdown" or segregation for 23 hours a day in maximum security for threatening other inmates or guards. If he begins to show signs of psychosis or depression due to being isolated, Morgan says it's in everyone's best interest to give him "crisis intervention"—involving, for example, a "no-harm" contract in which an inmate and a therapist agree verbally or in writing that the inmate will not harm himself for a designated period, or until at least one therapy session is held. Providing such services can be a challenge, he notes, because of limited resources, an environment that limits social support and the inmates' confinement to a small space (62).

Most rules regarding solitary confinement include not allowing any form of entertainment in the cell which include: books, music, television, art supplies and radios. Some inmates revolt and flood their cells and throw toilet paper anywhere they can get it. Frontline went inside Maine State Penitentiary and recorded what happens in the segregation unit (Frontline). The video details multiple riots and hunger strikes that take place during the brief time period they were filming. These rules were created because inmates took advantage of the items they were given to pass the time. I understand why they would revoke the allowance of those items in the cells, but I believe they should be given to prisoners that behave. It can be used as an incentive to keep their behavior on the right track. Most solitary confinement units are scarcely furnished. It is out of safety but some exceptions should and could be made. If the inmate behaves, and by behaves I mean: appropriate language and attitude toward the guards, no loud noise, be cooperative and don't cause a ruckus that may excite the other inmates. If they can avoid all that they should be given something as an incentive to continue down that path.

One of the main reasons solitary confinement poses such a health risk is due to the conditions within the cell. "…solitary confinement's harsh conditions, including filthy cells that are "scarcely larger than a king-sized bed," [Craig Haney, PhD] said. As a result of the endless monotony and lack of human contact, "for some prisoners … solitary confinement precipitates a descent into madness." Many inmates experience panic attacks, depression and paranoia, and some suffer hallucinations…" (10). Its perfectly reasonable to lock someone away if they pose a threat to someone but, the cell with which they are thrown should be at least remotely decent. Prisons are not places to torture people they are places to legally punish and rehabilitate offenders. Most solitary confinement cells have concrete everywhere. Floor, ceiling and walls. Some cells have a small 2 inch wide window, some have no window what so ever (Rodriguez).

Some may say they are just unruly rule breakers and they should be happy with whatever we give them in prison. Well I believe they are still human beings that deserve the benefit of the doubt. Who knows, the person sitting in solitary confinement could be innocent. The Innocence Project created in 1992 has exonerated over three hundred inmates using DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) evidence. The average time spent in prison or jail was an astonishing thirteen years and eighteen of those three hundred were on death row (Project).

There are some pros associated with the use of solitary confinement. One of them is the protection it gives to those who would otherwise be in danger if left in the general population. "…others have ended up in solitary because they have untreated mental illnesses, are children in need of “protection,” are gay or transgender, are Muslim, have unsavory political beliefs, or report rape or abuse by prison officials" (Rodriguez). The general population can be a dangerous place. The infamous Jeffrey Dahmer was killed by his fellow inmates after being released into the general population. "He died of massive head injuries, suffered sometime between 7:50 and 8:10 A.M., when he was found in a pool of blood in a toilet area next to the prison's gym…" (Terry). The prison deemed it safe for him to go back and within a week he was attacked with a plastic homemade knife during chapel service. One month later he was attacked and killed while cleaning. If Jeffrey Dahmer would have stayed in solitary confinement he most likely would have died of old age. Another pro to solitary confinement is that it keeps violent inmates away from the general population. If aggressive inmates are kept behind bars riots are less likely to happen. Another positive is that guards have a safer work environment when the violent inmates are locked up. Also Solitary confinement is a good punishment. Other prisoners will learn from observation that if they go against the prison rules than they will be punished. No one wants to be locked up in solitary unless they are there for their own protection. Finally, it is easier and safer to control inmates who are in solitary confinement compared to the general population. Extra safety precautions are taken since most of the people in solitary are violent inmates.

I do not believe anyone is unruly enough to deserve a stay in solitary confinement. Sometimes using solitary confinement is a necessary evil but that does not mean we cannot try to fix it. Just change a few things and solitary confinement can become an effective treatment option. Allow prisoners more time to socialize safely and to talk with a counselor, who can help them resolve any issues that hinder them from getting better. The reason solitary confinement is bad is mainly because it isolates the inmate from other people and treats them like something less than a human being. Acknowledge them and show them that the system wants them to get better. It has been proven that solitary confinement is not a good method for rehabilitation. Instead of decreasing recidivism it actually increases the chance of inmates re-offending. “Prisoner recidivism is a serious public safety concern: almost 700,000 prisoners are released from prison every year, and approximately two-thirds of those released are rearrested within three years” (Gordon). If something does not change prisons are going to become more and more crowded. If prisoners can be rehabilitated effectively tax payers do not need to pay more money towards keeping them locked away. Instead that money can go towards schools and different beneficial programs. Stop the problem at the source. Solitary confinement can be an effective method of rehabilitation but it needs to be reformed and kept under check.

Bibliography

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Gordon, Shira E. "Solitary Confinement, Public Safety, and Recidivism." 2014. University of Michigan: Journal of Law Reform. Online Journal. 16 March 2015.
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Project, Innocence. Our Work. 10 March 2015. Online . 17 March 2015.
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Terry, Don. Jeffrey Dahmer, Multiple Killer, Is Bludgeoned to Death in Prison. New York, 29 November 1994. Online.
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