Solitary confinement is a form of punishment within a prison that serves to punish inmates who have engaged in certain behaviors. Corrections officers often describe solitary confinement as a prison within a prison – the officers keep certain inmates in a tiny cell that is smaller in area than an average horse stable. The prison keeps these inmates confined for about 23 hours per day, feeding them through a slot in the door. The hour of freedom is for exercise, performed in a cage.
As California assesses its solitary confinement policies, it is evident that this practice is unethical. Many studies have examined how solitary confinement affects the physical and mental health of the prisoners subject to it. It is clear that solitary confinement is a dangerous practice and must end for the human rights of inmates throughout California.
According to many scientific experiments and studies, it is evident that solitary confinement has adverse effects on the mental health of inmates. Prisoners deprived of social interactions for most of the day, for possibly months on end, can experience extreme damage to the brain. Prisoners may develop depression because of the confinement. They may also develop suicidal thoughts due to being alone for hours, as well as hallucinations and a loss of a sense of reality.
In addition, prisoners who spend time in solitary confinement tend to be more bitter and angry, which goes against the rehabilitation goal of the prison system. In solitary confinement, prisoners also experience extreme boredom and stress. They can emerge from the experience having prolonged problems with sleeping and concentrating.
Prisoners who spend time in solitary confinement tend to have more anger toward the prison and the guards than those who are not subject to this punishment. Solitary confinement does little to rehabilitate behavioral issues, and may exacerbate them – the opposite of the practice’s intent.
The psychological trauma of solitary confinement is an obvious side effect, but other harm can come from the practice. Inmates subject to solitary confinement may experience adverse physical symptoms, according to many scientific studies. They may experience chronic headaches in addition to increased sensitivity to noise and light when the prison releases them.
In addition, inmates in solitary may develop heart palpitations and digestive problems. The practice also leads to weight loss, muscle pain, dizziness, and a loss of appetite. Combined with the psychological effects it is clear that this practice does more harm than good to the prisoners who are subjected to it.
In the state of California, solitary confinement is a legal practice. According to Amnesty International, California prisons hold over 3,000 prisoners in these high-security isolation housing units, known as SHUS. In fact, no other U.S. state holds as many prisoners in solitary confinement for prolonged, often indefinite periods. Some California prisoners can go more than a decade without visits from their family.
With these studies examining how solitary confinement impacts people who have spent time in solitary confinement for a much shorter period, it is harrowing to think about how decades of solitary confinement can impact a prisoner. Often, California prisons send these inmates out on the street without any transitional programming – setting them up for failure in the outside world, and often a quick return to the prison system.
Solitary confinement is a dangerous practice in California prisons, which could lead to significant physical and psychological damage. If you have experienced mental and physical damages because of this practice, speak to a local criminal law attorney.