A new report by the American Friends Service Committee looks at the effects solitary confinement has on reentrants. After being held in isolation for months, or years, the barriers to successful reentry increase. The AFSC report, Lifetime Lockdown: How Isolation Conditions Impact Prisoner Reentry offers solid evidence that the sensory deprivation inmates in solitary confinement experience leads to “…a set of mental health symptoms that can be extremely debilitating to prisoners, including visual and auditory hallucinations, hypersensitivity to noise and touch, paranoia, uncontrollable feelings of rage and fear, and massive distortions of time and perception.” Those symptoms can lead to suicide while in prison.
An article appearing in the August 8 issue of the Tucson Citizen provides a gritty look at life in solitary confinement through the eyes of “Mike,” an inmate suffering from mental and physical disorders, issues that are not uncommon to prisoners kept in isolation. His chilling description of the negative effects of his experience is reason enough for prison reform advocates to clamor for the abolishment of such a tortuous punishment. click here to go to website But the negative impact that solitary confinement imparts on prisoners often stays with them once they are released into the community.
Highlights from Lifetime Lockdown, which examines conditions in Arizona’s prisons, include:
Lengthy or repeated exposure to long-term solitary confinement reduces former prisoners’ prospects for successful reentry and contributes to Arizona’s high recidivism rate.
The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) does not adequately prepare prisoners who have been held in supermax during their incarceration for reentry to the community.
ADC policies limiting visitation and prohibiting maximum-security prisoners from participation in education, treatment, and employment have a negative impact on these prisoners’ reentry prospects.
Many prisoners who have been held in isolation do not receive adequate reentry assistance. Many “slip through the cracks,” while others self-isolate and deliberately avoid social service agencies.
Social service agencies are largely unaware of, and unprepared to address, the special needs of this population.
The AFSC report recommends:
Eliminate the use of long-term solitary confinement in the ADC.
The ADC should collect and release annual statistics on recidivism rates of prisoners who have been held in maximum security or supermax units as compared to the general prisoner population, including those released directly from solitary confinement.
Reinstate maximum-security prisoners’ access to correspondence classes and distance learning programs.
Design appropriate options for education, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, and other rehabilitative programming for maximum-security prisoners.
Provide a step-down program for all prisoners to transition from supermax to general population units.
Provide mandatory step-down and reentry programming to all prisoners in supermax units within one year prior to their release date.
Require all social service agencies in Arizona to inquire about incarceration history at intake and develop appropriate intervention and programming to assist people who may have been traumatized by their experiences in prison.
Ensure adequate funding for social service agencies that support formerly incarcerated people.