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Horror of solitary confinement in American prison system


Changes are underway

The prison system in America, compared to other countries, is lacking in several areas, especially in the one that is supposed to provide said criminals with the help and support for their rehabilitation while incarcerated. This lack of support has made it extremely hard for individuals to simulate back into society and become productive members.  Gov. Gavin Newsom and other political leaders are at an apparent crossroads regarding solitary confinement and whether it should be reformed or removed.

Last year, Newsom vetoed a bill to end indefinite solitary confinement in California’s jails, prisons, and private detention centers, rejecting advocates’ hopes to restrict a practice that many experts have likened to torture. “Segregated confinement is ripe for reform in the United States — and the same holds in California. Assembly Bill 2632, however, establishes standards that are overly broad and exclusions that could risk the safety of both the staff and incarcerated population within these facilities,” Newsom said.

Newsom also stated that ending solitary confinement would limit the options of removing individuals who present or display violent tendencies in jail. This has also led to Newsom taking a direct overseer role in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, as this would allow him to develop regulations that would restrict the use of segregated confinement except in limited situations.

Solitary confinement means being held in a cell for more than 22 hours a day without meaningful social interaction. The practice is linked to a heightened risk of suicide, depression, and irritability, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and several physical issues, such as hypertension and heart attacks. Many advocates have linked not only the American prison system but the use of solitary confinement to being tortured and deem it the reason very few people come out of jail in a better mental state.

“The scientific consensus and the international standards are clear. Solitary confinement is torture, and there must be limitations and oversight on the practice,” Assemblymember Chris Holden said, adding that Newsom and other leaders who are against the bill are afraid of revealing or owning up to the dark history of the California prison system.

“Frankly, it’s an unrecognized scandal that so many people are suffering so significantly in these environments,” said Craig Haney, a UC Santa Cruz psychology professor who has studied the long-term effects of solitary confinement. Before the bill passed this year, inmates could be sent to solitary confinement for up to 24 hours a day and spend months to years in that environment.

“They have memory problems, they have difficulties concentrating, they can’t think as effectively as they once did. They forget names, they forget faces, and they find their memories are fading. They try to read a book but they can’t do it,” Haney said. “Sometimes these things accumulate, and the desperation is so deep that people begin to hurt themselves and think about taking their own lives.

Haney continued by doubling that solitary confinement produces nothing positive for the inmate “There is nothing rehabilitative whatsoever about placing somebody in solitary confinement,” Haney said. “People who have been in solitary confinement for long periods feel fortunate to have survived it. But they’re not rehabilitated by it.”

With the passing of AB 2632 (Nelson Mandela bill), prisons and jails would only allow no more than 15 consecutive days or 45 days in six months. The isolated individuals would still be allowed time out of their cells for recreation and meals, along with treatment and services, as long as there wasn’t a significant risk to the safety of other people.