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Over the last two decades, we've seen an unusual surge in the use of solitary confinement in United States correctional facilities. This surge is despite the talks of prison reform in favour of incarcerated individuals and heavy criticism from medical and legal practitioners who deem the practice inhumane and unconstitutional; Not to mention the cost of building and operating supermax prisons up to three times more than traditional prisons. Several studies have also suggested that supermax prisons can negatively affect public safety. 


With fiscal realities negatively impacting budgets set aside for things like education and health, there's no better time to re-examine the issues surrounding the topic of solitary confinement and whether it should continue. This blog article entitled, 10 Major Issues and Solutions About Solitary Confinement in The U.S.” reviews some of the major issues with solitary confinement in the United States and possible solutions and alternatives to it. 

What is Solitary Confinement?


As the name suggests, solitary confinement is a form of imprisonment where an incarcerated individual is kept in a single cell with little or no contact with other people. Critics of solitary confinement believe that it is only supposed to be used under close supervision for a brief period due to the detrimental consequences it has on prisoners' physical, social, and mental health. However, reportedly and to the contrary, solitary confinement has amounted to inhumane, cruel, or degrading treatment or even torture in certain circumstances.

A Brief History


The history of solitary confinement can be traced back to the late 1780s when social and prison reformers promoted isolation as a more human alternative to existing punishments. Their most significant reason for this suggestion is that the silence of such cells can allow prisoners to reflect on their crimes, thus leading to deep repentance and reforms. However, it didn't take long for people to see that the practice did more harm than good as prisoners soon began to face negative experiences like hallucinations, depression, anxiety, agitation, panic, delusion, and confusion. By the year 1890, the practice was already falling out of favor in panel institutions, despite its alleged genuine intentions. Again, the rapid increase of incarceration and violence bred by prison overcrowding soon meant that solitary confinement re-emerged as a viable option for managing prison volatility. But it didn't take long before misuse began again, and this misuse has constantly grown since the 1970s.

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Major Issues 


Some individuals end up losing their way and ending up in jail or prison. However, not everyone who goes to jail or prison is an unredeemable criminal and some prisoners who end up in solitary confinement end up becoming victimized by their experience(s). As expected, there are several reasons why critics are against solitary confinement to correct (alleged) wrongdoing. However, these issues can broadly be categorized into two, namely: 


·         Mental health issues 

·         Physical health issues. 


1.   Mental Health Issues


Several studies already show that solitary confinement can cause adverse psychological effects while increasing the risk of severe harm to inmates. One article by the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law even likened isolation to physical torture in terms of distress caused by both. 


Humans are naturally wired to live off social contacts. When denied of this social contact and subjected to isolation, a human can begin to develop several mental problems, including:

·         Stress and anxiety 

·         Post-traumatic stress disorder

·         Hopelessness and depression

·         Irritability, anger, and hostility

·         Social withdrawal

·         Panic attack

·         Suicide

·         Violence outbursts

·         Self-harm. 


2.           Physical Health Effects 


While most studies focus on the psychological effects of solitary confinement, we can't deny the possibility of such psychological traumas leading to physical health issues. Available studies even show that social isolation can increase the likelihood of death by up to 32%. Some of the most obvious physical effects of solitary confinement include:


·         Dizziness

·         Chronic headaches

·         Digestive problems

·         Deterioration of eyesight

·         Fatigue

·         Excessive sweating 

·         Joint and muscle pain

·         Weight loss

·         Appetite loss 

·         Trembling hands.

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Possible Actions That Can End These Issues 


It's one thing to know all the issues that solitary confinement can cause, but another thing to work towards ending these issues. Solving these issues requires personal, corporate, and professional efforts to solve. That said, here are some suggested solutions that will work. 

·         Become pen pals with an inmate who experienced or is in solitary confinement.

People in solitary confinement often do not have people to call or write outside. Writing them letters and offering them a listening ear can be the source of comfort that keeps them going. Keep in mind that there may be restrictions at high or Supermax prisons for prisoners in solitary confinement.

·         Invite released inmates with solitary confinement experience to speak at community events.


If you're a member of a volunteer association, book club, community forum, or any other group, then consider organizing public events and inviting someone with solitary confinement experience to come and speak. They can share their experiences and may be able to offer invaluable tips to help others cope with similar conditions or discourage someone from becoming incarcerated.

·         Organize programs targeted at mental health awareness in prisons.


You don't need to be a psychologist or a mental health expert to organize such programs. One strategy that always works is organizing such programs and inviting experts to speak. Some experts may be happy to partner with you in organizing such events. 

·         Hold locally elected officials responsible for reforms.


Most states leave the control of county jails in the hands of local sheriffs. You can write your local sheriff or attend town hall meetings where you can encourage them to ban solitary confinement in local jails. You can also support people with good agendas to push for more favorable support for prison reform.

·         Invest in the furtherance of local prisoners' rights.


There are available groups dedicated to protecting the rights of inmates. Research and contact these groups in your locality and invest some of your resources and time in helping them further their cause. 

·         Ask politicians about their stand on solitary confinement.


State governments and other politicians significantly influence who gets appointed to head state prisons. These politicians are always ready to listen and answer questions during campaigns. Make efforts to ask them about their stand on solitary confinement. Ensure the commitment of your governor in appointing officials that will focus on reforming solitary confinement laws.

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That's it – We’ve touched on some of the major issues surrounding solitary confinement in the United States. We've also suggested some actions that can help reduce the impact of this confinement on solitary confinement victims. The conditions of solitary confinement can be quite severe, and it's not surprising that concerned critics are calling for its complete eradication.