McCoy & Hiestand Attorneys at Law

Solitary confinement is the isolation of a prisoner in a separate cell for anywhere between 22-24 hours a day due to a violation of prison regulations or for the purpose of protection.

Some spend months, or even years in solitary confinement, isolated from any human contact. Also referred to as the hole, segregation, or restrictive house, nearly every state uses some form of solitary confinement.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that there are more than 80,000 men, women, and minors in solitary confinement in prisons across the United States. It is estimated that one third of these individuals live with mental disorders, and are at higher risk for succumbing to the dangers that the circumstances of solitary confinement can lead to.

Common Reasons for Solitary Confinement

Most prisoners are sent to solitary confinement for violating prison regulations such as:

  • Committing a violent act
  • Possessing contraband
  • Testing positively for drugs
  • Ignoring orders
  • Using profanity

Solitary confinement may also be imposed for the protection of the prisoner or fellow prisoners in cases such as:

  • Untreated mental illnesses
  • Juveniles in need of protection
  • Being discriminated against with respect to sexuality, gender, race, religion, or other identifying factors
  • Someone who has reported rape or abuse by prison officials
  • Someone who is at high risk of attempting suicide

A Day in Solitary Confinement

Solitary confinement conditions vary from state to state and among correctional facilities, but there are some systematic policies and conditions such as:

  • Confinement anywhere from 22-24 hours in one day behind a solid steel door, in a room measuring from six-feet by nine-feet to eight-feet by 10-feet
  • Infrequent or no access to phone calls and family visitation
  • Limited or no access to rehabilitative or educational programming
  • Restricted or no reading material and personal property

Some prison systems use physical, no-touch psychological torture, and chemical torture during this isolation, such as restraint chairs, permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures, and stun grenades.

Psychological Effects of Isolation

The long days of isolation from any human contact may cause prisoners to exhibit hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, obsessive thinking, paranoia, anxiety, anger, violent fantasies, nightmares, and insomnia among other physical and psychological problems.

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