Solution Proposal Berkelman

A System Desperate for Reform

Some inmates spend up to 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. While in solitary confinement, inmates are completely isolated from one another and are kept in a small cell that typically only contains a tiny cot, toilet, sink, and sometimes a little window and a desk. Inmates have little exposure to sunlight and have bright florescent lights that usually shine on them for 24 hours a day, which greatly disturbs their sleep cycle. Some facilities keep their solitary confinement blocks silent, while others are creating constant clanks and bangs, denying the inmates any rest (Cloud et al.). Many prisons only allow their inmates to leave solitary confinement once a day for an hour, others only once a week for five hours. Unfortunately, a large number of people are exposed to this type of treatment for a number of years. According to Cloud, Drucker, Browne, and Parsons, "In the federal system and at least 19 states, policies permit locking people into solitary confinement indefinitely" (Cloud et al.). This means that there is no time limit on how long an inmate is in solitary confinement. This flaw in the system has caused some inmates to be held in solitary confinement for up to 20 years. Flaws like this scream reform. Due to the damaging psychological effects solitary confinement can have on inmates, regulations need to be put in place to make the process more humane and constitutional.

Solitary confinement is a type of confinement that restricts inmates' social interactions and causes them to develop many psychological problems. Humans are social creatures that require social interactions to survive. Denying the necessity of interaction from a social being causes serious psychological damage. This psychological damage greatly changes inmates and usually has a negative effect on them for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the psychological damage is so severe that inmates commit suicide to escape from what some people consider to be inhumane torture. If this problem is not addressed, inmates will continue to experience this form psychological torture that can potentially lead them to suicide and a life of psychological distress.

Solitary confinement was first applied in United States in Philadelphia. The idea originated from the Quakers in 1829. The Quakers believed that if a prisoner was kept in a stone cell with only a Bible they would, "Use the time to repent, pray and find introspection" (Sullivan). However, this idea backfired on the Quakers. Many of the prisoner went insane, committed suicide, or were unable to successfully return to and function within society. Because of this negative outcome from the treatment, solitary confinement was rarely used. A U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Freeman Miller, discussed the conditions of the prisoners who first experienced solitary confinement in Philadelphia and said, '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). Sullivan was experiencing the horror solitary confinement creates. The damage it causes is undeniable.

In 1983 the system of enforcing solitary confinement for 23 hours a day was adopted in a prison for the first time. This happened in Marion, Illinois because two guards were murdered by inmates during two separate occasions on the same day. As a defense to this heinous occurrence , the warden put the prison in what he called a ' permanent lockdown' and required his inmates to be isolated in their cells for 23 hours a day, making it the first prison to adopt a 23 hour cell requirement in the country (Sullivan). The inmates were no longer allowed to go out in the yard, participate in any education programs, work, or eat in the cafeteria. Many states followed Illinois and adopted this system, keeping their inmates in their cells and isolated for 23 hours a day.

Between 1995 and 2005 there was a 40% increase in the number of people who were held in solitary confinement, going from 57,591 to 81, 622 (Cloud et al.). Why such a jump? Have people became worse, or has something else changed? A claim that is made quite often is that solitary confinement is used so readily as an attempt to improve safety. It does this by separating violent prisoners from other prisoners and guards, which prevents fights and other problems from occurring. Some of the inmates who are kept in solitary confinement are incredibly aggressive and violent, have a past of causing problems, or have a record involving violent crimes, but the majority of the prisoners are none of the above. "The majority of people in disciplinary segregation do not pose a threat to staff or other prisoners, but are placed in segregation for minor rule infractions, such as talking back, smoking, failing to report to work or school, refusing to return o food tray, or possessing excess quantities of postage stamps" (Cloud et al.). These people are anything but dangerous and violent, and yet they are locked up in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for these minor offenses. It is clear to see that the system of solitary confinement has gotten twisted and is being wrongfully implemented, but why?

In our society, people who go to prison are seen as being dangerous, regardless of the crime they committed. It is safe to say that most of the public has a fear of prison inmates because they are believed to be extremely aggressive, pose a threat, and are bound to commit another crime once they are released. Because of this impractical, unrealistic fear of convicts and people who have served time in prison, there is a high demand for stricter punishment. If an act comes with a horrendous consequence, then someone is less likely to partake in the act because of the consequences. That is slightly the idea behind solitary confinement. People believe that with solitary confinement in the prisons, inmates will be less likely to commit a crime once they are released (recidivism) in fear of going back. However, Gordon argues that solitary confinement has the exact opposite effect on inmates. She believes that solitary confinement has effects that are irreversible. The psychological damage that solitary confinement can haunt the inmates for their lifetime. Just like when the Quakers first implemented solitary confinement, many of the inmates who are released struggle to go back to living a normal life. Gordon believes it is because the inmates have become so psychologically damaged that they are now accustomed to being isolated and alone, and cannot properly return to their social and interactive ways (Gordon). This lack of belonging and functionality can lead the inmates to commit suicide and makes them more likely to commit crimes because they can no longer function within society.

Another reason for solitary confinement is under staffing in the prisons. The U.S. has the largest prison population, imprisoning 750 people out of EVERY 100,000 (Nguyen). U.S. prisons are overcrowded and overrun by an abundance of prisoners. There are not enough prison guards within the prisons to safely control and contain all the inmates. As a result, solitary confinement is used to keep prisoners locked up and away from each other and the guards. Many of the inmates in solitary confinement are NOT aggressive or dangerous. However, the guards feel threatened by the low number of staff and high number of inmates so there is little hesitation to shrink the inmates' advantage by putting a majority in solitary confinement. Nguyen claims that all it takes to get put into solitary confinement is to break "Minor rules and are deemed a nuisance" (Nguyen). Prisons do not have the numbers in staff to safely control the prisoners so they resort to solitary confinement to restrict and control a majority of their prisoners. "The overpopulation American of prisons has compromised the health and constitutional rights of its inmates" (Nguyen). The guards are so outnumbered, they rarely think twice about using solitary confinement. However, the damage that solitary confinement causes should be enough for the guards to rethink how they use the system.

It is clear that solitary confinement is a failing system that requires reform to put in back together. To improve the system there needs to be regulations set into place, more guards being hired, and a trained doctor, who specializes in psychology and neuroscience, to determine when the inmate is experiencing psychological damage. The regulations that would be in place would require that there is a serious reason for why the person is being placed in solitary confinement rather than a minor rule infraction, and a there would be a time limit on how long that person can be held there. This mean that inmates will no longer be placed in solitary confinement because of a minor incident, they must be violent and pose a serious threat before being placed there. The regulations would also protect the inmates with the time limits they enforce. Because there are no rules about how long an inmate can be placed in solitary confinement, some inmates have spent up to 23 consecutive years in solitary confinement. Spending such a large amount of time in solitary confinement has effects that can be irreversible. Jason Breslow explains these effects in his article, What Does Solitary Confinement Do To Your Mind? In the article there is a study discussed that was performed by a psychologist, Craig Henay, and performed at California's Pelican Bay State Prison. When studying the prisoners in solitary confinement, Henay found that those prisoners 'begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind-to organize their own lives around activity and purpose' (Breslow). Many inmates are unable to break this behavior and struggle to adapt when they are released from solitary confinement, and/or prison.

Hiring more guards would allow the guards to have more control over the inmates without using solitary confinement as an unnecessary punishment. The guards are incredibly outnumbered compared to the inmates and solitary confinement is an easy solution. Oscar Lopez interviewed a former correction officer, Brian Dawe, about the issue. Dawe said, 'We are so understaffed and so overcrowded across our prisons, it is miraculous that we can handle it' (Lopez). If there were more guards they would be able to control the inmates without abusing solitary confinement.

Prisons have doctors on site, but none that specialize in psychology and neuroscience. In an interview with a doctor who works in a prison, the doctor said that a prison is 'a bad place to be a patient, especially if you're mentally ill' (Giang). This means that the inmates who are in solitary confinement are not getting the treatment and checkups that they need. Inmates who are in solitary confinement need a different doctor because they are experiencing more psychological damage. Having a specialized doctor on site who would give the inmates checkups would decrease the amount of damage that solitary confinement causes because these specialized doctors would be monitoring the inmates and know when damage is occurring.

Getting funding has always been an issue for prisons. However, this solution does not require extra funding. Prisons get an abundance of funding and they have the power to decide where it all goes. To make this solution work, prisons would have to split up the funding they currently receive and give less money to a program that is not necessary. That way the prisons would have more money and would be able to hire more guards. This would work for the new specialized doctors as well. The prison would need to have general doctors AND specialized ones. This would work by limiting the amount of general doctors that they hire, allowing specialized ones to get hired as well. the money is there, it just needs to be moved around and used differently.

There are arguments that the system needs no change and there are others who believe that solitary confinement should be eliminated completely. However, both of these are unrealistic. It is clear that the system of solitary confinement is flawed and needs reform. The current system is causing inmates to suffer great psychological damage. The other suggestion, eliminating solitary confinement completely, is also flawed. Solitary confinement is a useful tool when it is implemented correctly. It offers a place for violent inmates when they are out of control and causing problems. Eliminating this would make it a lot more difficult to control these inmates. My solution still offers solitary confinement. It just has strict regulations to make sure solitary confinement is being used correctly. Also, hiring specialized doctors would ensure the patients who are in solitary confinement would not be experiencing psychological damage. My solution allows solitary confinement to be used in a humane way.

Solitary confinement is a useful tool for prisons to separate aggressive inmates and prevent violence throughout the prison, but it is quite evident that the system is being abused. The system was developed to protect prisoners and guards in prisons from violent prisoners, prevent recidivism, and to protect the well-being of the public. However, many of the inmates in solitary confinement are not dangerous. They have committed minor issues in the system and are punished for it with solitary confinement. A major reason for this happening is because of the overcrowding of prisons and the low number of staff members. The staff are being overrun by all the prisoners so they use solitary confinement as a way to control all of the inmates they have. Also, although people believe that solitary confinement prevents recidivism and protects the public, it ends up doing the opposite. The inmates become so damaged from the psychological damage they endure during solitary confinement, they are unable to re-adapt and properly function within society. The likelihood of someone who was in solitary confinement committing a crime once they are released is significantly greater because the damage they have experienced is great and irreversible. Solitary confinement can be a helpful asset to the prison system if they learn how to properly use them. One thing is certain though, the current system is greatly flawed and needs reform if the prison system is going to continue to use solitary confinement. However, solitary confinement would be very helpful if it was reformed. Reforming it would create restrictions on who is placed in solitary confinement and for how long. It also would ensure the safety of the inmates by having specialized doctors onsite who can determine when an inmate is experiencing psychological damage. The idea of solitary confinement is good, but the system that it runs on, is not. To ensure the safety and well-being of inmates, solitary confinement needs to change and be reformed.

Peer Review Berkelman

Works Cited:

  • Breslow, Jason M. "What Does Solitary Confinement Do To Your Mind?" PBS. PBS, 22 Apr. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
  • Cloud, David H., Ernest Drucker, Angela Browne, and Jim Parsons. "Public Health and Solitary Confinement in the United States." American Journal of Public Health 105.1 (2015): 18-26. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
  • Giang, Vivian. "Jailhouse Doctor Shares What It's Like To Care For The Most Dangerous People In The World." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
  • Gordon, Shira E. "SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, PUBLIC SAFETY, AND RECIDIVISM." University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 47.2 (2013): 495-528. Academic Search Premier. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.
  • Lopez, Oscar. "Prison Officers Need Help, but They Won't Ask For It." Newsweek. Newsweek, 27 May 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
  • Nguyen, Jimmy. "A Comparative Study of Prison Overpopulation and Its Consequences" Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Summer Research Fellowship : 11-16. 30 Aug. 2012. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.
  • Sullivan, Laura. "Timeline: Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons." NPR. NPR, 26 July 2006. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.
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