Solitary Confinement

Is long-term isolation of prisoners inhumane?


Debate is growing over the isolation of U.S. prison inmates in virtually round-the-clock solitary confinement. When the practice began booming in the late 1980s, politicians and some prison administrators — many supporting the construction of special “supermax” facilities — said prison safety demanded that “the worst of the worst” inmates be held in prolonged isolation. But even some supporters of long-term solitary acknowledge that many prison systems have used the strategy to warehouse mentally ill inmates. A growing number of federal court decisions prohibit placing the mentally ill in strict isolation, citing evidence that it aggravates their condition. Recently, some states have reduced the number of prisoners in long-term isolation. But in Illinois, guards protesting the planned closure of a supermax argue that transferring inmates ...

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