Solitary Confinement

As one of the bleeding heart liberals on the board, I am opposed to the death penalty. Of late I am more and more opposed to the use of solitary confinement in prison. Solitary is too often used for too long for minor problems.

Then I read stuff like this and realize some people are just deserving of harsh treatment.

OK, so what about we compromise? Before policemen are allowed to use tear gas and Tasers, I understand they must be exposed to those weapons. (Am I right?) What if jailers are required as part of their training to undergo five or ten days of solitary?

Good idea or not? The idea would be to reduce the use of this severe sanction.

The entire prison system in the United States is unjust. Solitary confinement is one aspect of that. The human race has been trying harsh punishments for thousands of years without producing solid evidence that it achieves anything desirable. A criminal justice system that focuses on treatment and rehabilitation and preparing convicted criminals for jobs and productive life would be vastly better than what we have.

The idea you propose might have some advantages as far as helping the employees involved to understand the human dimensions of what they’re doing. In the big picture, though, we should strive for much greater reforms than that.

As a side note, the article that you linked to seems less a testimony for the need for harsh punishments than for the those in the criminal justice system to do their jobs properly.

I am aware the OP was not my best work. I am still thinking about this. On one hand, I am opposed to harsh treatment. On the other hand, some people out there seem to just be asking for it.

Solitary confinement seems to be used too often and for two long. I wonder what can be done to restrict its use to only those cases where it is called for.

How much is too often, how long is too long, and how minor is minor?

Meh. I think it would have to be imposed mostly on wardens and administrative personnel, who (I think) are the ones who decide who goes to solitary and for how long.

I think solitary confinement is at least as much for the protection of the inmates (and guards) as for punishment. I believe Bradley Manning is in solitary because he is on suicide watch, and because he is believed to be at risk from the other inmates. So it might be bad if some guard, who came to believe that solitary is a fate not to be wished on even the most evil inmates, decided to let Manning out into the general population, and someone beat him up or killed him.

I think sometimes you need a way to protect other inmates from lifers who have nothing to lose.

Suppose we abolish the death penalty. Instead, we sentence people to life without parole. But we also abolish solitary confinement, or limit it to just a few days or months.

So John Con is doing life without parole, and someone ticks him off, or turns down his sexual advances (as was the case with the Birdman of Alcatraz), and John kills him. What do we do then? Take away his TV privileges?


I agree, but I don’t think there’s much in the way of encouraging studies of attempts at rehab.

IMHO, our criminal justice system is more about sequestration than either punishment or rehabilitation. (And how is that working for us, you might ask? Well … probably more effectively than it would at the other two!)


I am not a cop, I have not gone through use of force training.

I don’t think taser training includes getting shot with a taser, though. In the few youtube clips I have seen, a “class” gets to see a volunteer tasered, but I don’t think every student must be tasered.

Good point.

I don’t know. Five or ten days of solitary confinement for a guard sounds like an awful lot of overtime pay.

Another good point.

There are rules in prison just like everywhere else. When the rules are broken there have to be consequences, including punishment. If an inmate assaults a guard or another inmate something needs to be done. What are you going to do? Rehabilitate him? My understanding is that inmates don’t like “the hole” and it may be an effective deterrent.

I am a use of force trainer and officers don’t need to be “tased” to carry a taser. We do spray the recruits with pepper spray. The purpose is to show them that if they are sprayed on the street its not the end of the world and they can fight through it. There’s no fighting through a taser (well, not usually).

Are we talking about getting a cell to yourself? Or getting thrown in a dark hole for weeks on end? Two very different interpretations of “solitary confinement”.

I think Shodan’s points justify the former. And maybe even a more spartan “punishment cell” for limited periods. But just being thrown in a dark pit for extended periods, like in the movies, with no light and maybe not even a toilet? That’s a form of torture that should be eliminated.

One big problem with seg is the fact that mentally ill patients get sent there in disproportionately high rates. And being mentally ill and in segregation is not a good combination. It makes it even more difficult to make progress in improving their behavior.

It’s in part a consequence of the criminalization of mental illness behavior, and the closing of so many psych hospitals and chronic care centers. Lots of these folks really have very little control over their behavior, and cursing, spitting, defecating in public, acting out, stuffing things up their urethra, or fighting invisible monsters while in a prison results in seg time.

I wish I had a workable solution this dilemma. I’m faced with it multiple times a week.

I also see patients whose volitional behavior is so bad that they need to be in seg for their own and others’ protection. You can’t repeatedly choose to assault those around you due to your anger management issues and expect to be kept in even semi-polite company for very long. Especially if you weaponize your prosthetic foot for the purpose of more effective assault not once but twice.

Do that, and you will sit in seg without your prosthesis for a good long while. And you probably deserve to be.

The segregation unit: Loss of personal property, generally in a single cell (but not always) with limited recreation, loss of canteen/library/job/education privileges. No TV, radio. Limited access to books and writing supplies. Pass the time by participating in screaming matches with other seg inmates, flinging bodily substances at passerbys, or trying to sleep 23 hours a day.

Some of my patients tell me that a 15 or 30 day stint in seg can be rather restful, but most don’t care for it. I’ve had a few folks wilfully break the rules so they can spend all their time in seg.

Wait… so all I had to do was stuff something up my urethra to get some peace?

Anyone got a spare pencil?

I totally get that there are some inmates who are a serious and continuing danger to others. I totally understand that there are cases in which isolation is the last resort.

But I wonder about someone like Ted Kaczynski. As I understand it, he’s in the Supermax prison, with virtually no human contact. I have a hard time understanding why this is so. He’s 70 years old, is he a threat to other people? Is he really in danger himself? From what I know, it seems he was placed in the Supermax as punishment. I’m not sure that’s really humane.

Qadgop, thank you for your service, and your insight.

Something that’s rarely mentioned is the problem of people coming out of prison in worse shape than when they went in. That doesn’t make me feel safer.

BTW, Dickens writes (nonfiction) about visiting an experimental hospital in the US, where all prisoners are in solitary confinement for their full sentence. It’s interesting (and disturbing) reading. His experience informed his inclusion of a similar (fictional) prison in a scene in David Copperfield, but that is mostly a comic scene and doesn’t convey the sense of horror he describes during his American visit. Cite

Thnaks so much for your insight QtM! What other punishments are available? What punishments or methods of control do you wish were available?

I think in the case of someone like Ted Kaczynski who was infamous as The Unibomber you have to throw the book at him.

It is as if The Joker were sentenced to 20 years in a regular lockup.
You have to put him in Arkham or Rikers.