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The Harsh Realities of Solitary Confinement

Imagine that the room around you is a mere six feet wide and nine feet long. The walls around you are stark; a cold, stainless steel sink and toilet your only company. You are delivered daily meals through a tiny slot in the thick metal door that keeps you away from fellow human beings. How do you think you'd adjust to these conditions?

According to an NYU analysis, approximately 80,000 inmates are placed in solitary confinement each year. Many are familiar with the term "solitary confinement" but don't grasp what it truly entails nor understand its effects on the human psyche. Solitary confinement is one of the go-to methods prisons use to discipline, punish, and protect at-risk inmates. Is it an effective method to handle issues?

What is solitary confinement?

Solitary confinement is an extended period of isolation. Prisons around the country call it by many names, including "segregation," "restrictive housing," or other term depending on the purpose it serves. Solitary confinement serves many purposes; it is often used to keep problematic prisoners away from other prisoners or staff, punish prisoners for misconduct, or protect prisoners who pose a high risk of being harmed if placed with other prisoners (like youth offenders in adult prisons).

How does solitary confinement work?

Many prisons keep prisoners isolated for 22-24 hours per day for several days at a time. Typically, prisoners get just one hour a day to exercise, but this frequently takes place away from other inmates. They often have no meaningful way to pass the time; many prisoners cannot have books, television, or art supplies in their cells. The average period of isolation is 37 days, but some prisoners can stay for weeks, months, or even decades. Extended stays have been shown to produce severe effects on the prisoner's physical and mental state.

Physical and Psychological Effects

After even just a few hours in isolation, prisoners have reported physical symptoms including:

  • Chronic headaches

  • Trembling

  • Sweaty palms

  • Extreme dizziness

  • Heart palpitations

  • Insomnia

  • Muscle pains

  • Abdominal pains

  • Increased sensitivity to normal stimuli

  • Lost appetite

  • Trouble eating and digesting food

Many of these symptoms can be attributed to the stress and anxiety isolation provokes. The psychological effects are vast and troublesome. Inmates report sustaining emotional and behavioral harm.

  • Approximately one-third of inmates are actively psychotic or acutely suicidal

  • Inmates can have hallucinations, panic attacks, paranoia

  • Inmates report difficulty thinking, concentrating and memory problems

  • There are higher rates of self-mutilation and suicide from inmates who stay in solitary

Additionally, anywhere between one-fifth to two-thirds of inmates in solitary confinement have a mental illness going into these conditions. Solitary confinement has a severe, debilitating impact among these prisoners, making it much more difficult to rehabilitate them and much less likely that they will reintegrate into society.

Does solitary confinement aid rehabilitation efforts?

Research shows that, while it is a "quick fix" for controlling rowdy prisoners or those who simply don't follow orders, solitary confinement thwarts rehabilitation efforts and dismantles any progress that may have been made before confinement. It destroys a person's innate ability to socialize and organize his life. Prisoners who experience long stays in solitary confinement are less capable of social integration and are thus more likely to re-offend upon their release. They are also more likely to commit suicide or self-mutilate.

An increasing number of prisons are resorting to placing prisoners in solitary confinement for even the smallest offenses. You could be next if you fail to secure an experienced defense attorney to fight the felony charges against you. At The Umansky Law Firm, we provide strong criminal representation throughout the greater Orlando area. Founder William Umansky has defended clients for over 25 years and is an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Call 407-228-3838 for strong criminal representation in Orlando or chat with us live 24/7.

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