What comes to mind when people think about solitary confinement? Society depicts prisoners in locked cells with little or no contact with the outside world. While this is true, solitary confinement presents a grave problem that needs public discourse. According to the National Institute of Corrections, solitary confinement is often used to separate dangerous prisoners, protect inmates from other inmates, or put a stop to illegal activities outside of the prison. This method of punishment is difficult because confined inmates are at risk for mental health problems.
Inmates in solitary confinement are not engaged in stimulating activities such as work, friendship, volunteering, religious worship, and more. In fact they are isolated for 23 hours a day, which can have a deleterious effect on mental health. Studies show that living alone is positively linked to mental health problems, and while this is not typical for everyone, isolation and seclusion can lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm, hatred or other psychological and physiological concerns. These health effects are especially greater in solitary confinement because prisoners spend everything but 1 hour of each day locked up and alone.
“The effects of solitary confinement on a prisoner’s well-being have been debated since the first half of the 20th century,” according to Peter Scharff Smith, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights in Copenhagen. For reasons earlier noted, solitary confinement can still exist although the system needs to be improved. Prisoners with psychiatric diagnoses who enter solitary confinement and worsen are one of the issues that need to be debated as part the overall reformation of prison system.
While incarceration intends to strip inmates of certain rights, not addressing mental health problems, which are the result of solitary confinement, will ultimately result in extra costs and impose a greater burden upon a system that is currently stretched to its limits. The case for or against solitary confinement is a complex one. It is clear that the system poses a risk of negative effects on health over a long period of time. At the same time, there are studies that have shown no change between inmates in solitary confinement and those in normal cells. As a health professional, the goal is to improve the social and natural environment in order to better the health of marginalized populations.
Do you think the prison system needs overall reformation? If so, what issues would you like to see reformed?