Solitary confinement is the practice of placing a prisoner in a confined, closed cell for a minimum of 22 hours per day. Convicts in such a cell are virtually free of any human contact and this can sometimes last for decades. You won’t hear prisons use this kind of term any more because of the negative connotations that are associated with it. Solitary confinement is now considered “prisoner segregation.”
At least 44 states in the US and the US federal prison system now have supermax prisons, which are generally composed solely of solitary confinement cells.
Sometimes a prisoner is placed into solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons. At other times, it is done for administrative or protective reasons. No matter what people may call it, there is one fact that every version of solitary confinement shares: it is virtually impossible to lock down any specific statistics about who is stuck in a cell by themselves every day.
- A widely accepted 2005 study found that some about 25,000 segregated prisoners were being held in supermax prisons around the country.
- For the US prison population as a whole, it has found more than 81,622 people held in “restricted housing” over the past 12 months.
- When prison populations grew by 28% between 1995-2000, estimates of solitary confinement grew by 40%.
- In 2010, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons told CNN that there were about11,150 Federal prisoners being held in “special housing.”
- About 400 US Federal prisoners are thought to be in held in ultra isolation, which means no human contact outside of guards.
- Riker’s Island in New York has 990 solitary confinement cells.
- At the end of 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections reported that 2,406 people were held in segregation in the state’s Restrictive Housing Units.
- A Colorado study of its prison systems found that 7% of the prison population were in administrative segregation and a further 670 in disciplinary segregation: a total of more than 2,100 prisoners.
A common sentiment is that if you don’t want to go to prison and experience the conditions there, then don’t break laws that would make that happen. On the other side of the equation, however, is the fact that a society can be judged by how humane it treats its prisoners. No one should expect better living conditions in prison than outside of it, but the idea of being in a small cell every day, all alone, with nothing to do but pass time by makes an existence essentially meaningless. There must be ways to reduce prison segregation without increasing societal risk or making a convict’s life too “posh.”
What Are The Conditions of Solitary Confinement?
- Life in solitary confinement means living 22 to 24 hours a day in a cell.
- Federal prisoners in disciplinary segregation typically spend 2 days each week entirely in isolation and then 23 hours a day in their cell the remaining five days – with a 1 hour break for exercise.
- Solitary confinement cells generally measure from 6 x 9 to 8 x 10 feet.
- Most solitary confinement cells have solid metal doors, though some of them have bars that allow prisoners to see outside of the cell.
- Some prisoners are escorted, in shackles, to the shower, while others have showers within their cells.
- Depending on the prison, those in solitary confinement may or may not be allowed to leave their cells for visits or to make telephone calls.
- Even when family visits are allowed, it is through thick glass and over telephones. The average prisoner in solitary confinement is not allowed to touch another human being with affection.
Placing a prisoner into solitary confinement essentially removes them from the global society that is developing. As the world grows closer together with communication easier than ever before, those in solitary confinement are moving further away from everything that matters to them. No one is excusing the crime they committed to put themselves into the prison system in the first place, but treating humans like a caged animal may not necessarily the best way to go. There must be a way to protect prisoners, protect society, and protect the sanity of each prisoner.
How Long Do People Spend In Solitary Confinement?
- According to the American Friends Service Committee, the average time served in the supermax units in the Arizona prison system is 5 years.
- Testimony from California officials in August 2011 stated that the average term in solitary confinement in California is 6.8 years.
- In one Virginia prison, a recent memo states that prisoners are on average isolated for 2.7 years, with the range of stays being 2 weeks to 7 years.
- Several prisoners in administrative segregation in New York prisons have been isolated for more than 20 years.
- The 52 death row prisoners executed in 2009 had spent an average of 14 years in solitary confinement before their executions, with one spending over 30 years in isolation before execution.
- Thomas Silverstein has been held in solitary confinement with a no human contact order for 28 years.
- In New York, California and Texas, it has been found that suicide rates are significantly higher among people held in solitary confinement than in general population.
Is holding someone in solitary confinement and limiting their contact with humans so that they decide to kill themselves really what justice is about? There should be an adequate system of justice in place that creates consequences for actions committed. That much is true. Providing a highly comfortable environment where a prisoner can kick back, relax, and do nothing every day while getting three squares doesn’t seem like justice either. If the prison system is truly designed to be a place where convicted criminals can work of rehabilitating themselves so they can re-enter society when their time is up or they are granted parole, then we need to do a better job with our solitary confinement rules. Some prisoners are dangerous and will hurt others at a moment’s notice. There is no question about this. Yet in the end, closing the door and throwing away the key so this person can just rot a life away doesn’t seem like a viable solution either.
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