Solitary Confinement May Be Headed For Reform Nationwide

Solitary confinement faces increased scrutiny as the mental health of inmates comes into question.

Solitary Confinement May Be Headed For Reform Nationwide
Flickr / Sean Hobson

​Could solitary confinement be headed for serious reform across the U.S.?

A movement to end the practice has gained traction recently. New York put reforms in place just two weeks ago to slow the practice of isolating vulnerable inmates, such as those who are pregnant or mentally ill. (Via The New York Times)

Maine, Connecticut, Illinois and several other states have also reformed their use of solitary in recent years. (Via NBC)

The practice came under increased scrutiny after the American Public Health Association called for the prohibition of solitary in November.

And, at a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said solitary was a “human rights issue we can’t ignore." (Via MSNBC)

Earlier this month, the new head of Colorado's corrections department stayed overnight in his state's penitentiary to better understand the practice.

In an op-ed he wrote for The New York Times after his experience, he said he felt the need for reform more urgently than ever. 

“If we can’t eliminate solitary confinement, at least we can strive to greatly reduce its use.  Knowing that 97 percent of inmates are ultimately returned to their communities, doing anything less would be both counterproductive and inhumane.” (Via The New York Times)

Robert King, who spent 29 years in solitary confinement, joined the American Association for the Advancement of Science at their annual meeting in Chicago in February to discuss how the practice affected him. King has had trouble with geographic orientation since he was released. (Via CNN)

Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California Santa Cruz, said "You find that prisoners begin to develop identity disorders when they have spent long periods of time without social interaction or touch."  He says that’s because so much of who we are is dependent on our contact with others.  So when others are removed, inmates “begin to lose their very sense of self.” (Via American Association for the Advancement of Science)

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says one of the most concerning aspects of the practice is that it increased so heavily between the 1970s and 1990s as the United States saw a dramatic increase in prison population.  The group says the increase in solitary was due to overcrowding and under funding.  It had nothing to do with the practice being an effective correctional strategy. (Via National Alliance on Mental Illness)

There are an estimated 80,000 prisoners currently held in solitary confinement in the U.S.