The following is posted with permission from Yes! Magazine.
An End to "The Hole"?: 6 Signs that Solitary Confinement Reform Is Coming
Much of the momentum in the movement to reform the use of solitary confinement in the United States comes from the work of prisoners themselves.
by Nur Lalji
posted Mar 20, 2014
On Tuesday, author and activist Sarah Shourd spoke to Democracy Now! about the time she spent in an Iranian prison after crossing the border from Iraq while on a hike with two friends. Shourd was held for more than one year, and spent much of that time in solitary confinement. Here's how she described the experience:
I spent hours and hours crouched by the small food slot in my door, just listening for sounds, pacing compulsively, eating my food with my hands. And there were times that I screamed and beat at the walls of my cell.
Shourd went on to point out that solitary confinement—which involves keeping an inmate alone in a small cell from 22 to 24 hours a day—doesn't just happen in faraway places like Iran. Roughly 80,000 people are held in solitary in the United States on any given day, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in many cases for minor violations of prison rules.
"It's the actions of the people in prison that pushed these issues into the spotlight."
Juan E. Méndez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, has pressed the U.S. government to end its use of long-term solitary confinement. "Even if solitary confinement is applied for short periods of time," he said in a news release, "it often causes mental and physical suffering or humiliation, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Meanwhile, psychologists have expressed concern over the link between solitary confinement and mental illness. Craig Haney, professor of psychology at University of California, Santa Cruz, interviewed hundreds of prison inmates as part of a research project with the National Academy of Sciences. At a hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate in 2012, Haney described the hallucinations and panic attacks experienced by many inmates held in solitary confinement.
"For some prisoners," he said, "solitary confinement precipitates a descent into madness."
In commenting on this article Solitary Watch News warns “Sorry, but it's a little soon to break out the champagne. So far the "reforms" have gotten no more than a couple thousand of the 80,000 total out of solitary.” But others acknowledge that while the movement to end solitary confinement has a long way to go, every person released from isolation is a victory.
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