Should the U.S. ban solitary confinement?
via AP

Should the U.S. ban solitary confinement?

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Activists are pushing for the end of solitary confinement in prison, saying the punishment is cruel and causes severe and lasting to inmates' psyche. Proponents of the punishment argue the use of solitary confinement needs to be reformed, but shouldn't be banned entirely. Solitary confinement can be a useful tool to control unruly prisoners, or to remove a dangerous prisoner from the general population. What do you think?

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Supporters say the problem with solitary is that it's applied arbitrarily—it is not a fundamentally cruel punishment. Critics are quick to forget that no one is sentenced to solitary. It's just when you continue to break laws and misbehave in prison that prisoners are sent into solitary.

Which brings us back to solitary: How else do you punish someone who’s already being punished? One prisoner was quoted in the NPR program griping that his mattress in solitary was uncomfortable. Sorry, pal, but the man you murdered while already serving time doesn’t get to complain anymore about bad mattresses — or anything else. If the punishment were to fit the crime, you’d have more to worry about than a bad mattress.

Solitary gives jailers options to correct and stop disruptive prisoner behavior. It should be used less frequently, but it should not be banned. 

Which is where the baby and the bathwater come in. The bathwater we need to throw out is the occasionally arbitrary and arguably excessive spells in solitary to which some prisoners are condemned. When a punishment is counterproductive all around, it should stop. But the baby we need to keep is the penultimate punishment of solitary confinement. It’s all we’ve got when no other form of behavior modification has worked.

Rick Raemisch, the head of Colorado's corrections department, spent a night in solitary confinement to better understand what the experience is like. 

Eventually, I broke a promise to myself and asked an officer what time it was. 11:10 a.m. I felt as if I’d been there for days. I sat with my mind. How long would it take before Ad Seg chipped that away? I don’t know, but I’m confident that it would be a battle I would lose.

He argues solitary confinement is harmful in the long run. It's a quick fix for a deeply rooted problem. Throwing a problem prisoner into solitary fixes the immediate issue at the cost of further destabilizing the prisoner and causing them long-term harm.

If an inmate acts up, we slam a steel door on him. Ad Seg allows a prison to run more efficiently for a period of time, but by placing a difficult offender in isolation you have not solved the problem — only delayed or more likely exacerbated it, not only for the prison, but ultimately for the public. Our job in corrections is to protect the community, not to release people who are worse than they were when they came in.
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