Solution Proposal Claire

Wanted: Solitary Confinement Reform

“I have served a sentence worse than death” William Blake confessed in his essay (Blake). Solitary confinement is a method of punishment used in "supermax" prisons. 44 states and the federal system have "supermax" prisons which mainly consist of solitary confinement cells (Rodriguez). If one finds them self in solitary confinement they got there either by breaking a prison rule, they are a danger to the other inmates or the other inmates are a danger to them. The cells are no bigger than a small bathroom or a big closet with very little furnishings. Solitary confinement has been around since 1829. It was first used at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia because the Quakers believed that leaving someone alone in a cell with just a bible to keep them company would help them repent, pray and find introspection (BBC, Sullivan). Introspection basically means, "looking within oneself" ( They had good intentions. The Quakers are a religious group which began in the seventeenth century by George Fox. They call themselves the Religious Society of Friends. They believe god is within all of us, called our "inner light" (BBC). Unfortunately their idea did not work. Instead inmates went insane due to the lack of social contact and such grotesque cells. Their cells only had one window… if the inmate was lucky to get a room with a view that is. Most cells did not get that luxury. The cell is furnished with a small cot, sink and a toilet and sometimes a desk. The floor, ceiling and walls are made of concrete. 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).

When an inmate is sent to solitary confinement they will spend an average of between 22 and 24 hours in their cell. They are allotted one hour to go outside which involves being moved to another cage that is typically a little bigger than they cell they left… once a week. How long do you figure an inmate stays in solitary confinement? A few weeks? Months? Maybe a year? After all, they are in complete isolation which has been proven to be very damaging so the prisons shouldn't leave them alone for too long, right? "Following extensive interviews with people held in the SHU at Pelican Bay in 1993, Dr. Stuart Grassian found that solitary confinement induces a psychiatric disorder characterized by hypersensitivity to external stimuli, hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, obsessive thinking, paranoia, and a litany of other physical and psychological problems. Psychological assessments of Pelican Bay’s solitary confined prisoners indicated high rates of anxiety, nervousness, obsessive ruminations, anger, violent fantasies, nightmares, trouble sleeping, as well as dizziness, perspiring hands, and heart palpitations" (Rodriguez). Unfortunately, on average an inmate will make solitary confinement their home for many, many years (Rodriguez). Every prison is different in regards to how long an inmate will serve their sentence in solitary confinement. The prison in Colorado is relatively short, 18 months. While some prisons exceed 10 or 20 years. "In the federal system, Thomas Silverstein (described as America’s “most isolated man”) has been held in solitary confinement under a “no human contact” order for 28 years" (Rodriguez). Can you imagine being confined in such a small space for so long? I get fidgety just driving home and that's only for four hours and on top of that I have multiple things to keep myself occupied. I can turn the radio on if I need something to break the silence. Inmates in solitary confinement are either left in complete silence or they have to deal with constant banging and clanging and yelling coming from their next door neighbors. "I have went days into weeks that seemed like they’d never end without being able to sleep more than short snatches before I was shocked out of my dreams, and thrown back into a living nightmare, by the screams of sick men who have lost all ability to control themselves, or by the banging of cell bars and walls of these same madmen (Blake). If the radio doesn't help I can call up my parents or a friend to pass the time. Inmates in solitary are rarely, if ever, allowed a phone call (Ridgeway).

Leaving someone alone in a confined space is akin to torture. Most prisons have realized that solitary confinement needs to be more than a, throw-the-inmate-in-and-throw-away-the-key type of method. This method requires intervention on the part of the prison system. Inmates left in solitary experience high rates of suicide because of the mental strain solitary confinement has on them. "I’d be afraid later on, terrified, when I reflected back on how close I had seemed to come to losing my mind, but at that moment all I could do was feel anger of a fiery kind: anger at the maniacs creating the noise and the stink and the madness; anger at my keepers and the real creators of this hell; anger at society for turning a blind eye to the torment and torture going on here that its tax dollars are financing; and perhaps most of all, anger at myself for doing all that I did that never should have been done that put me into the clutches of this beastly prison system to begin with" (Blake). Instead of leaving prisoners in solitary all day take some time out of the day to meet with them. 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). Hiring an extra doctor or nurse to make rounds with the inmates will save money in the long run. The cost to house an inmate in solitary confinement for a year is roughly $75,000, while those in the general population cost the taxpayers $25,000 (Rodriguez). The sooner an inmate can be released from solitary, the better for them and the hardworking taxpayers.

Of course some inmates are in solitary confinement for their own safety so it does have its benefits. In the United States, it is estimated that 80,870 prisoners are in solitary confinement. "36,499 in administrative segregation, 33,586 in disciplinary segregation, and 10,765 in protective custody. The 2000 figures represented a 40 percent increase over 1995, when 57,591 people were held in segregation. (During the same period of time, the overall prison population grew by 28 percent.)" (Rodriguez). 10,765 of the 80,870 prisoners are in solitary because it has been deemed dangerous for them to be in the general population. Inmates that are in solitary for their own protection include: juvenile inmates, rapists, particularly child rapists and molesters along with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) prisoners and any at-risk inmates. If they were not in solitary confinement they would be open to assault; physical and verbal. Unfortunately solitary confinement is used as a punishment more than it is used as a protective shield. Solitary confinement is a problem and this problem deserves our attention.

Some people in solitary confinement are not there because they broke prison rules. Some are just deemed unruly enough that segregation is sought or it is for their own protection. If the prison believes an inmate is a possible gang member or they look like a trouble maker they can put them in solitary confinement to better "protect" the prison and the general population. But in the long run it is only costing them more money. Why not use the inmates to help better the community. Send them outside to clean a highway or to help plant new trees in a field. Anything that is easily manageable and safe. This isn't a new idea. In 2012 the joint program between the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Ohio Department of Transportation was developed to save time and money and to allow the inmates a chance at doing something positive and to repent for the crimes they committed (Petryszyn). "Litter is a totally preventable problem that wastes the taxpayer's dollars. This new program will allow ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) to focus on its primary goal of maintaining Ohio's transportation system," ODOT Director Jerry Wray said (Petryszyn). Having inmates pick up the litter for the ODOT will save them $4 million and free up over 200,000 man-hours. Of course some inmates are not cleared to leave prison to participate in a program like this. If the inmate is a sex offender or has an escape history and by that I mean they have attempted to escape prison they are denied entrance into the program (Petryszyn).

Another way to improve the conditions within solitary is to educate the staff about it and the side effects it has on the inmates. This way they will be more capable of handling inmates and they will have more sympathy for them. Educating the staff would just involve explaining to them the side effects associated with solitary and how they can be reduced by following a few simple measures such as: engage the inmate in conversation when you walk by, give the inmate something to do, a magazine or a radio to listen to is better than nothing since solitary confinement tests the body and the mind when it comes to dealing with real boredom. “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). Do these simple things and solitary will be more manageable.

Some may believe that prisoners should be treated as… well prisoners. They shouldn't be allowed to enjoy basic necessities like "free" people do but they are still human beings capable of remorse. Giving them a radio or simply giving them something to do is perfectly acceptable. They are still prisoners serving their time. They are still paying for what they chose to do with their lives. Giving them an outlet helps them stay calm, happy and less hostile which leads to better attitudes which in turn quickens the time they will be released from solitary confinement. If all prisons went by the saying, "lock the door and throw away the key" our nations prisons would be overflowing with inmates. That's why alternatives to prison time such as: parole, probation, fines, suspended sentences, restitution and community service programs have been created (Nolo). It frees up precious space within prisons and saves the taxpayers money.

Also using solitary confinement helps insure that guards and other prisoners will stay safe. Solitary confinement is a good method in regards to keeping an inmate away from the general population. Along with that not all prisoners suffer from the effects of solitary confinement such as anger and hallucinations when they are deprived of social contact. The prisoners that do not suffer from the adverse side effects are more stable and function perfectly fine in solitary and when they are released from solitary.

After more funding is allocated to solitary confinement ward's and guards are more knowledgeable about solitary confinement change will happen. Inmates will spend less time in solitary because they will be more calm after they can have daily talks with a clinician. If they were left to stew in their cell their emotions would get the best of them and they would try to cause trouble, which in turn would earn them more time in solitary. When they are given the appropriate level of help and support they will be more cooperative and then they can go back to the general population. The less time they have to spend in solitary the better, mentally and financially. "Solitary confinement is also expensive… One study estimated that the average per-cell cost of housing an inmate in a supermax prison is $75,000, as opposed to $25,000 for an inmate in the general population" (Rodriguez).

Overall solitary confinement has a few good things going for it. It protects inmates that wouldn't be able to defend themselves in the general population and it helps serve as a deterrent to the other inmates. Along with that it keeps violent inmates away from the general population so that no one gets hurt. Also inmates that are prone to causing trouble can be put away in a "time-out" to let them simmer down. In doing so there is less of a chance of anyone getting hurt and a possible riot breaking out. Even though solitary confinement has a few positives there are also negatives to keep in mind. For one, the conditions within the cells are horrible. They are trapped in a small bathroom basically for most of the day and if or when they are let out they are escorted in chains to another cage where they can walk back and forth for an hour. Along with that most inmates are not given anything to pass the time. They have to resort to yelling at the other inmates in the cells beside them to rid themselves of their boredom. 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.

This method causes more problems than it solves. It has potential but it must be reformed. For one, inmates should be given a little more attention. Even just an hour with a doctor or another inmate (if its deemed safe) would help the inmates mental state greatly. "Had I known in 1987 that I would spend the next quarter-century in solitary confinement, I would have certainly killed myself. If I took a month to die and spent every minute of it in severe pain, it seems to me that on a balance that fate would still be far easier to endure than the last twenty-five years have been" (Blake).

BBC. Quakers. 7 March 2009. Online . 24 March 2015.
the Quakers

Blake, William. "Voice from Solitary: A Sentence Worse Than Death." 25 December 2014. Solitary Watch: News from a Nation in Lockdown. Online. 11 February 2015.
William Blake Essay

Crawford, Nicole. "Helping inmates cope with prison life." Monitor on Psychology (2003): 62. Online.
Helping inmates cope with prison life Introspection. 2015. Online.

Nolo. Sentencing Alternatives: Prison, Probation, Fines, and Community Service. 2015. Online.
Sentencing Alternatives

Petryszyn, Kelly. "Inmates clean up: Prisoners pick up trash through community program (with video)." 23 July 2012. The Morning Journal . Online. 20 April 2015.
Sentencing Alternatives

Ridgeway, James. News from the Hole: The Words of People in Solitary Confinement in America’s Prisons. 4 September 2014. Online.
News from the Hole

Rodriguez, Sal. Solitary Watch: The High Cost of Solitary Confinement . 2011. Online.
Solitary Watch FAQ

Solitary Nation. Dir. Dan Edge. 2014. Online Video.
Frontline Video

Sullivan, Laura. "Timeline: Solitary Confinement in U.S Prisons." 26 July 2006. Online. 23 February 2015.
Timeline of solitary confinement

Solution Proposal Peer Review Claire

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