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How Common is Solitary Confinement?

More than 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement in the United States, and about 25,000 of them are in long-term solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is considered one of the harshest punishments for prisoners because of the way it seriously affects mental health. The U.S. is one of the few countries that uses long-term solitary confinement.

More facts about solitary confinement:

  • Multiple studies show that being in long-term solitary confinement increases a person's propensity for violence, psychosis, depression, hallucinations and panic attacks.

  • The practice of solitary confinement is nothing new. In the U.S., it was started by the Quakers as a "humane" alternative that gave prisoners time to think about their crimes and possibly decide to change. It went out of fashion in the early 1900s as being unnecessarily cruel, and it has been abolished in many countries, including most of Europe.

  • In some prisons, a typical day in solitary confinement includes 15 minutes in a computer-controlled shower and about an hour to exercise alone. The other 22 hours are spent in a concrete cell with no natural light.

Discussion Comments

By momothree — On May 29, 2011

@alex94- I actually did a research paper on solitary confinement, also called Supermax, a couple of years ago for my criminal justice course. I am straddling the fence on whether it helps or not. In most cases, the inmate spends 23 of 24 hours in a small, cement room. There is no communication.

One inmate in particular had been in solitary confinement for over 20 years. Here’s the scary part: This inmate has had no contact with any human beings for 20 years and will be released into the public when his time is over. How productive can he possibly be?

By alex94 — On May 28, 2011

What are the pros and cons of solitary confinement? I mean, does it really work to alleviate the original problem that led them there? Or, does it just make it worse?

By anon163753 — On Mar 29, 2011

This is heavy. And other major countries have banned this.

Unbelievable! Why doesn't this country get this?

I think because it has become institutionalized, a business, basically, and they keep doing the same things rather than risk rocking the boat. It's outrageous.

Where is the change, President Obama? And when?

Until it happens to the general public things won't change (the strip searches for traffic violations being stopped). Whew.

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