Is solitary confinement torture?

From an OP/ED on Huffingtonpost:

From all the evidence I’ve seen, I’ve come to the conclusion that solitary confinement, at least for a duration long enough to cause measurable brain damage, is torture, and it is a practice that should be discontinued.

It’s my understanding that Life in Solitary violates the 6th Amendment (I saw the movie (Bacon & Slater IIRC) dramatizing the case at Alcatraz).

I would not consider solitary confinement, as an absolute statement, to be torture. Unlike something like waterboarding, solitary confinement has an obvious and measurable goal beyond causing pain: it renders the prisoner physically incapable of causing harm to other people.

Now, if this treatment makes criminals more violent upon release, you’ve really got two questions: are they bad enough that they need to be rendered physically incapable of hurting other prisoners? And if they are, why the hell are you letting them out?

I imagine some sort of webcam type setup could allow prisoners to communicate with others via telescreen. Would this not serve the goal of keeping them from physically harming others and protect their sanity?

What happens if no one wants to talk to them?

I would also think that it depends on the type of isolation.
Are they in a dark hole in the basement, sleeping on a floor and crapping in a bucket or are they in a cell with a bunk, and a toilet and sink with a light?

Personally I have gone for a fair amount of time with no contact of a person and no electricity [snowed in for 2 weeks with no power, just city water and sewer so I could at least go to the bathroom inside] and I had to cook and heat with a wood stove. It got pretty boring, and I slept a lot, but I didn’t go nuts or anything.

I think if I was in jail I would actually prefer solitary … I can be pretty anti-social and want to be left alone if I am not feeling well, and I don’t like strangers or crowds …

While I am super libral, I do think that there are criminals who are so fucked up and inhuman, they don’t even deserve to be protected under “human rights”
This should not be used as a regular practice…but come on…aren’t there people who are SO sociopathic that they NEED to be isolated from society?

Very few criminals are so uncontrollable as to need to be completely isolated from the rest of the prison population. Even a significant proportion of people who work in prisons think the US over uses isolation.

Long periods of isolation can cause sever mental changes making the person less able to control their violent impulses or to be able to interact with humans normally. These changes mean the person is more likely to be put back into isolation or kept there. Ironically the people who handle isolation the best are the most likely to be released the quickest.

I disagree. Whatever they may have done in the past, two wrongs don’t make a right. In addition to being cruel, it’s also counterproductive, because it ends up making them even more dangerous than they were before, which makes us lock them in solitary for even longer, which makes them even crazier, which makes us lock them up even longer, etc.

Isolated from society is not the same as isolated from all human contact. You can still keep dangerous prisoners in individual cells, which keeps them unable to physically harm others, but set up so that they can still communicate with neighboring cell mates.

All right. We have some anecdotal evidence here from you claiming it’s not that bad. But I’ll point out the obvious: You are only one data point, and you only had to deal with it for two weeks. Not months or even years like some prisoners have.

Literally, nobody wants to talk to him? I think cases of that are so rare as to be virtually non-existent. Even serial killers have people who care for them. Even Ted Bundy, who murdered 35 women, somehow managed to get married after he got caught.

Even if we do encounter a hypothetical case like that, I’d say we should let him at least talk to the prison psychologist.

For a fairly unbiased look at the subject, I’d recommend “National Geographic: Solitary Confinement.” It’s available for instant streaming on Netflix.

The solitary of today is nothing like that on Alcatraz. I remember when I took the audio walking tour of Alcatraz, one of the former prisoners did the narration and said that to pass the time, you’d take a button off of your uniform, toss it into the air and try to find it. It was also quite cold “in the box”, there was no light but you were just close enough to San Francisco that on some nights, especially New Years, you could hear people having parties.

A few days of “Find the button” in a pitch black cold cell would certainly be enough to drive me insane.

People who put the phrase human rights in quotation marks should be kept in solitary confinement.

Then nor do you. Or I. Or anyone. Once we start handing the government the choice of which of us is protected under human rights, then none of us are protected under human rights.

I wonder which is worse. Packing two people into a 5’x8’ cell, or one person in the same cell. Does solitary confinement mean there’s no leaving the cell to go to an exercise area? To eat? For medical treatment? What about books? TV? Radio?

Solitary is not the same as sensory deprivation, and I think we need to be careful not to conflate the two. Solitary in which inmates have access to normal facilities, reading material, and occasional interaction with a staff psychologist, other staff, and are permitted visitors is not torturous in my opinion. On the other hand, solitary confinement in which they are essentially placed into sensory deprivation, “the hole” etc… Certainly would qualify as torturous to me.

No it doesn’t. The U.S. has several ‘Supermax’ prisons that are nothing but solitary confinement for life. The most notorious one is in Florence, CO and houses Ted Kaczynski (the Unibomber) and Terry Nichols who was the other Oklahoma City Bomber among many others. They are going to be in solitary confinement for the rest of their lives and only get to leave their cell for 1 hour a day to go to another cell without a roof for exercise.

Here’s a thought provoking article from The New Yorker. Relevant excerpt:

I feel it is the worst thing that can be imposed on a person, and that can happen situationally as well such as someone stranded or trapped alone. We are not meant to be alone.