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United States Politics

The Science of Solitary Confinement 326

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the breaking-your-mind-reforms-you dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Joseph Stromberg writes in Smithsonian Magazine that while the practice of solitary confinement is being discontinued in most countries, it's become increasingly routine within the American prison system. It is estimated that between 80,000 and 81,000 prisoners are in some form of solitary confinement nationwide. Once employed largely as a short-term punishment, it's now regularly used as way of disciplining prisoners indefinitely, isolating them during ongoing investigations, coercing them into cooperating with interrogations and even separating them from perceived threats within the prison population at their request.

Most prisoners in solitary confinement spend at least 23 hours per day restricted to cells of 80 square feet, not much larger than a king-size bed, devoid of stimuli (some are allowed in a yard or indoor area for an hour or less daily), and are denied physical contact on visits from friends and family ... A majority of those surveyed experienced symptoms such as dizziness, heart palpitations, chronic depression, while 41 percent reported hallucinations, and 27 percent had suicidal thoughts...

But the real problem is that solitary confinement is ineffective as a rehabilitation technique and indelibly harmful to the mental health of those detained achieving the opposite of the supposed goal of rehabilitating them for re-entry into society. Rick Raemisch, the new director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, voluntarily spent twenty hours in solitary confinement in one of his prisons and wrote an op-ed about his experience in The New York Times. 'If we can't eliminate solitary confinement, at least we can strive to greatly reduce its use,' wrote Raemisch."
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The Science of Solitary Confinement

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  • by jmd (14060) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:25PM (#46362259)

    How sad the USA has become.

  • "Corrections" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dutchmaan (442553) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:27PM (#46362299) Homepage
    This is what happens when you have a society that is more interested in punishing people than reforming. It's as if to say "We don't believe you'll ever change, or are capable of changing so we're going to crush you instead." All you have to do is read a forum on any news story relating to a crime to get a realistic view on how people view "corrections" should be carried out.... and we call other countries barbaric.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:27PM (#46362305)

    Were taken directly from the dark ages, and were never designed or intended to rehabilitate but to satisfy the victims desire for revenge. And of course wield the power of the state and show how much worse it can be when you don't conform

  • by Ichijo (607641) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:29PM (#46362325) Homepage Journal

    It's called "retributive justice," and ideally it isn't supposed to be personal, but until human judges are replaced with computer software, it will always be personal.

    Would it be so bad if the only role of justice were to protect society while rehabilitating the offender? Some murderers might get out after only a year if they are properly rehabilitated, and serial kleptomaniacs may stay locked away forever, but at least prisons would be a nicer place for them if they weren't meant to be a form of punishment. I think this would do wonders for eliminating crime.

  • by doctor woot (2779597) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:29PM (#46362327)

    Yeah, I like making sweeping generalizations about tens of thousands of people that I've never met to justify horrific and inhumane treatment too.

    Oh wait no I don't because I'm not a piece of shit.

  • by surmak (1238244) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:32PM (#46362375)
    I think what the director did is a great first step. Too bad that every judge, prosecutor, and correctional officer does not get the same experience before they have the power to send someone to such a hell hole.
  • by maliqua (1316471) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:34PM (#46362401)

    too bad that makes no difference what the crime is, torture is torture and not justifiable particularly under the guise of rehabilitation implying that its good for them

  • by Fwipp (1473271) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:37PM (#46362461)

    Actually, it turns out that the perceived odds of getting caught matter a lot more as a deterrent than the size of the punishment. What's the difference between 10 years and 20, when you've got to make rent next week or your mom will get kicked outta her home?

  • by doctor woot (2779597) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:38PM (#46362473)

    Hyperbole? What hyperbole? You show me how solitary confinement reduces harm to both bystanders and inmates better than other, less barbaric methods of rehabilitation and I'll consider not viewing such methods and the people who advocate them with disgust.

  • by mythosaz (572040) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:38PM (#46362477)

    they can be isolated safely without the extremes of solitary confinement

    We all eagerly await your detailed plan for their isolation.

  • Re:realistic rick (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xevioso (598654) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:38PM (#46362483)

    There's always been a debate in American society concerning justice...why do we put people in prison? To rehabilitate them? To punish them? To protect people in the outside world from them?

    In some ways it can be argued that all three are useful as arguments.

    But at the end of the day, in the real world, away from these sorts of philosophical arguments, there are real prisoners in for a stint with a hope to get out someday, and guards (who are free, with real outside lives) and then there are psychopaths. The facts are that there are SOME people whose only admitted goal in life is to cause as much harm to others as possible, because they enjoy it.

    It is inhumane to the rest of the prison population and guards to keep these people near others. That is why you put them in solitary.

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:39PM (#46362491) Homepage Journal

    they can be isolated safely without the extremes of solitary confinement being locked in a tiny box and not being allowed any type of communication is not for the safety of other prisoners its vindictive

    You know what? Sometimes you reap what you sow.

    And then again, per the article, there are some inmates that request it. Frankly, I'd likely ask for it too, rather than be in general population with all those animals.

  • by Fwipp (1473271) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:43PM (#46362553)

    Too bad his conviction was overturned. He spent 28 years in solitary for a crime he shouldn't have been convicted of.

  • by maliqua (1316471) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:44PM (#46362573)

    physical separation doesn't require a total lack of human contact or external stimuli.

  • Re:"Corrections" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twotacocombo (1529393) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:47PM (#46362617)
    Yeah, and you're also IN JAIL, which looks great when you're applying for a nice white collar position in an attempt to use that education you received at Prison University. Prison time is pretty much a career death sentence in this country and the current economy; you'll most likely only work 'jobs'.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:49PM (#46362643) Journal

    How sad the USA has become.

    If this actually struck us(at a population level) as 'sad' rather than 'fuck yeah! tough on crime!', I suspect we'd be in better shape.

  • by Jeff Flanagan (2981883) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @05:57PM (#46362747)
    We unfortunately allow psychopaths and sociopaths to control our prisons. We should be disqualifying anyone who wishes to harm their charges.
  • by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @06:05PM (#46362833) Homepage

    If we stopped incarcerating hundreds of thousands of nonviolent offenders guilty of victimless crimes like drug possession, we could afford to humanely house the actual criminals.

  • by epyT-R (613989) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @06:06PM (#46362849)

    Yeah, but the moment society closes the doors out of vindictiveness, it's pulled out all the control rods. Unfortunately, the road from being considered law abiding citizen to 'unemployable criminal' grows shorter every day. Once that point is reached, there's no longer any reason to care about anyone else's rules or artificial limitations. There's nothing more to lose.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @06:08PM (#46362873) Homepage Journal

    It's also, as the article points out, essentially torture. Do we want that even for violent offenders? I don't.

    "The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all." - H. L. Mencken

    "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for men of good conscience to do nothing." - Thomas Jefferson

    I could go on, but I shouldn't have to.

  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms&infamous,net> on Thursday February 27, 2014 @06:12PM (#46362899) Homepage

    Society needs revenge for certain crimes, for the sake of all our mental health.

    Quite the opposite, actually. The quest for revenge is detrimental to one's mental health.

    Can you provide any rationale for why we should care so much about the comfort of a serial killer?

    Because we're supposed to be better than serial killers, we're supposed to be humane individuals. Because maybe we got the wrong guy, and it's worse to torture the wrong guy than to just lock up the wrong guy (though that's still very very bad). Because if we're going to imprison that serial killer with other people, people who are not serial killers and will eventually return to society, it's important how that serial killer acts towards fellow inmates. Because if we're interested in how to keep people from turning into serial killers, it's important to study that serial killer, to interview them in an atmosphere of some trust.

    Non-violent offenders shouldn't be facing prison time at all, let alone solitary.

    No jail time for burglars, then? Or car thieves or bank robbers who bust in after closing time? Interesting.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 27, 2014 @06:13PM (#46362909)

    Unless the prisoners were being imprisoned in North Korea or China or Sudan or any of those fascist countries, most of the prisoners who were incarcerated in (more civilized) countries such as the United States of America were there because they have committed crimes..

    You make a laughably ridiculous assumption: that the courts and criminal justice process actually work fairly. The overwhelming majority of prisoners in the US took a plea bargain that takes them straight to a guilty verdict and prison whether they did the crime or not because it takes real money and good lawyers to defend a criminal charge - let alone win and get off. This is one reason the prisons are full of blacks and people from underprivileged backgrounds: they cannot afford a real defense even if they are innocent. Police and prosecutors rely on this to avoid supporting their case (real or not) in a trial. It also takes enormous personal resources and courage to withstand the strain of a lengthy criminal trial. The stress is unbelievable, some people just want to plead guilty and get it over with. The system fails.

  • by doctor woot (2779597) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @06:17PM (#46362965)

    So you're just suggesting once someone gets put in solitary, they're kept there until they die, without ever seeing another human ever again? The fuck kind of person are you?

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @06:20PM (#46363003) Homepage Journal

    Nice hypothetical. Got any evidence that's what actually happens?

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @06:24PM (#46363049)

    some people will use any human contact AT ALL to try to become violent.

    Sure, some people will. But no where near 80,000 people. If such high rates of solitary confinement were really necessary, then can you explain why no other country in the world has rates anywhere near as high?

  • by quarterbuck (1268694) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @07:25PM (#46363583)
    Apparently the prisoners do not get TV/Books in the cell, nor can they see what all the noise around their cell is. Fixing solitary does not mean allowing physical access.
    Books/newspapers or TV would go a long way. A computer with internet would be even better. Plexiglass door and a curtain would also help a lot.
    If a person is afraid for their own safety from other inmates, he should not have to choose between total isolation and physical harm. Similarly, mentally unstable should also not be punished with isolation - that just makes their mental situation worse. Even as punishment, I would think that someone locked up for more than a week should get at least a book to read.
  • by hey! (33014) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @07:37PM (#46363699) Homepage Journal

    Should we massage them like Kobe cows?

    If that's the only option short of solitary confinement as practiced in US prison, I suspect you haven't put much thought into the problem.

  • by Nephandus (2953269) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @07:40PM (#46363709)
    A PC version of the sociopath. It's rarely documented since it's what the State actually wants. The failure of empathy is ironically a badge of righteousness in this context. Smear the queer's perfectly fine for acceptable targets. Criminalization generally works as a programmed trigger to dehumanize, though most are already dehumanized to prevent backlash (white women >> black women >>>> white men > black men). Remember how executions used to be grand entertainment?
  • by mrspoonsi (2955715) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @08:17PM (#46363995)
    Consider that these prisons are private companies that actually want prisoners, as prisoners = $$$. Then you can understand why the prison is not about rehabilitation, it wants damaged people who go back out, re-offend and come back to the prison, follow the money.
  • Re:"Corrections" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nemyst (1383049) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @09:18PM (#46364435) Homepage
    Until you manage to produce undeniable proof that someone is physically unable to be cured from mental illness, we should always, as a society, strive to cure them.

    Let's take an analogy that's perhaps closer to home: some people in hospitals have neither the money nor the physical wellness to get cured. Should we simply abandon them, or should we strive to the very end to attempt to cure them, even (and especially) if it ultimately fails?
  • by Uberbah (647458) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @10:54PM (#46364913)

    physical separation doesn't require a total lack of human contact or external stimuli.

    By definition it does. You can either put them in a huge room by themselves or a small room by themselves, but some people will use any human contact AT ALL to try to become violent.

    By definition, that's a sad lack of imagination you have. Place their cells next to, other inmates. Zero physical interaction, but they can talk to one another. Radio or TV mounted on the ceiling behind plexiglass. Books. Newspapers. Finger paints.

  • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Thursday February 27, 2014 @11:18PM (#46365019)

    Nobody slips on a banana and falls into prison. It takes hard work and long term dedication to get there.

    Or, you can just piss off a cop - you know, give him an excuse to charge you with attempted vehicular manslaughter for pissing him off and then driving near him.

    Think that doesn't happen? Try it and tell me how you do.

    Next, tell me how most cops are great people and don't get into the profession just to throw their weight around and pay back injustices dealt to them. I agree - _most_ cops are great people. Now go piss off one who isn't - there are still plenty of them out there.

  • by i kan reed (749298) on Friday February 28, 2014 @12:20AM (#46365245) Homepage Journal

    No, psychology is much more complicated than rocket science.

There is no distinction between any AI program and some existent game.