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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Slate: Opinion: Helen Bera: Against Solitary Confinement: States Finding it Impractical as well as Immoral


Slate: Opinion: Helen Vera: Against Solitary Confinement: States are finding it’s impractical as well as immoral.

This post was originally posted at The New Democrat on Blogger  

The current use of the process of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons is deplorable.  There are no guidelines relating the length of confinement to severity of offense.  The process is used at the discretion of onsite officials.  This results in wide variations with some cruel and counterproductive results.  Indefinite solitary confinement is simply inhumane and can only intensify anti-social tendencies in inmates suffering any psychological disturbance.

Solitary confinement should be used as a punishment that is commensurate with the offense committed and the need to convince the inmate that objectionable behavior is unacceptable.  It may provide a needed cooling-off period when there is conflict in the prison population.  It should be managed by psychological professionals.

Inmates considered too disturbed to live in the prison population are sometimes subjected to  indefinite solitary confinement because the onsite authorities have no other strategy for managing them.  This experience only makes them worse and makes the job of dealing with them much more difficult for the prison staff whose professional training is often inadequate. These inmates need to be in prison hospitals where they can do their time and get the mental health care they need.  Rotting away in solitary confinement only makes them worse.  Cutting them off from the prison world and outside world all together just makes them meaner and angrier and more convinced that they have nothing left to lose.  They take that anger out on the first people they see.  The really hard to manage inmates, who have consistent records of violently acting out, should be in mental institutions where they can get the help that they need.

A lot of us when we were kids had the experience of being sent to the office for acting out in class and even doing an in-school suspension.  The penalty box in a hockey game is an example of what isolation units in prisons should be for the mentally healthy inmates, a place they go for short-term punishment but then they go back to their normal prison life.