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  • Ethan Leung

Solitary Confinement’s Evil Effects on the Human Mind

Ethan Leung, Researcher & Article Writer

A solitary confinement cell at New York’s Riker’s Island jail [photograph].
 

Originally created as a system to rehabilitate inmates and to improve prison conditions in the late 18th century, solitary confinement has expanded to have a ubiquitous presence in contemporary correctional facilities (Mentalhelp.net). In the United States alone, there are currently 80,000 to 100,000 prisoners being held in solitary confinement, with around 22 percent being held for more than a year (Mentalhelp.net). While — yes — solitary confinement has reduced the frequencies of prison chaos, whether it achieves the original goal of rehabilitation remains highly questionable, and it has become very apparent that it extracts a heavy mental-toll on the prisoners. According to Craig Haney, a social psychologist on mental health, solitary confinement “does not achieve its intended objectives and may even worsen the problems that it was designed to solve” (Weir, 2012).


While in isolation, inmates face unbearable torture and dehumanization, with severe negative effects on mental health. They are trapped in their 2 by 3 meter cells for 22 to 24 hours a day where they sleep, eat, and go to the toilet (MentalHelp.net). In addition, they are often harassed by prison guards, ranging from physical torture (hog-tying, restraint chairs, forced cell extraction, etc.) to “no touch torture” (sensory deprivation, extreme heat temperatures, permanent bright lighting, etc.). To highlight the horrific nature of these prisons, Daisy Meadows, a 27-year-old trans woman who spent about two years in isolation, described her experience to advocates in 2014 including "[suicidal] attempts or thoughts, thoughts of self mutilation (mainly self castration), severe stress, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, depression, and discomfort.” She also had “a sense of disconnect, self hatred about [her] body and hopelessness, all of which by being held in the hole, isolation, [were] made much worse” (Stahi, 2016). Meadows was constantly harassed by correctional officers because of her sexual orientation, which also highlighted the apparent flaws in the system where inmates are allowed to fall victim to harassment from guards. Many inmates face similar circumstances as Meadows; abuse and humiliation is sadly commonplace in these prisons.


However, rectifying the inappropriate behavior of the prison guards will not solve the issues of solitary confinement, as solitude, the basis of solitary confinement, is the root of the problem. A prisoner's limited freedom, especially with the lack of social interactions, removes their humanity. One has to endure days or even weeks without interaction with others; even phone calls and family visits are rare. Ultimately, individuals are coerced into a room without entertainment or emotional outlets where they have to sit in solitude for days. While some may argue that it provides a reflective period for prisoners and is justified because of their criminal act, solitary confinement is not just a punishment, it literally drives the person insane. A study conducted by Staurt Grassian, a former faculty at Harvard Medical School and a board-certified psychiatrist, found that roughly a third of solitary inmates were “actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal”(Beslow, 2014). In addition, Joel Dvoskin, a clinical psychologist in Arizona, remarks, "Some people have told me they've been locked down so long they're fearful of their own behavior if they're around human beings"(Weir, 2012).


One of the most horrific aspects of solitary confinement is its permanent impact on one’s mental health. Haney comments, “One of the very serious psychological consequences of solitary confinement is that it renders many people incapable of living anywhere else”(Weir, 2012). They have become too accustomed to their isolated conditions where “they actually get to the point where they become frightened of other human beings”(Weir, 2012). An example is Frank De Palma who spent 22 years and 36 days in solitary. After being released from prison, De Palma was overwhelmed by the vastness of the open world to the point where he would lock himself in a bathroom and yell in his head to relax. In an article for the Marshall project, he wrote, “Even now, there’s still a part of me that wants that abyss. Where there’s no thought, no feeling. I just want to be gone, away from everybody and everything. And that’s where I feel safe”(DePalma, 2019). Solitary confinement is simply torture, it clearly devours the human mind during and after one’s time in prison.


Solitary confinement continues to have a deleterious effect towards hundreds of thousands of incarcerated individuals around the world. While at times it does mitigate violence and disobedience within the prison, the system is proven to be inhumane. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the community for correctional institutions to move away from this treacherous system.


 

Bibliography


Alone, in ‘the hole’. (n.d.). Https://Www.Apa.Org. Retrieved 14 February 2021, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/05/solitary


Mathews, 2016. A solitary confinement cell at New York’s Riker’s Island jail [photograph].


I spent 22 years in solitary confinement. Then i didn’t want to leave. (2019, May 31). The Marshall Project. https://www.themarshallproject.org/2019/05/30/i-developed-agoraphobia-in-prison


The devastating consequences of solitary confinement—Depression, generalized anxiety, panic & bipolar disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved 14 February 2021, from https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/the-devastating-consequences-of-solitary-confinement/


The shocking, painful trauma of being a trans prisoner in solitary confinement. (n.d.). Retrieved 14 February 2021, from https://www.vice.com/en/article/qkgq97/the-shocking-painful-trauma-of-being-a-trans-prisoner-in-solitary-confinement


What does solitary confinement do to your mind? (n.d.). FRONTLINE. Retrieved 14 February 2021, from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/what-does-solitary-confinement-do-to-your-mind/


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