Solitary confinement in America? That's torture

  • Article by: GEORGE WILL , Washington Post
  • Updated: February 21, 2013 - 10:13 PM

Often prisoners are in their cells, sometimes smaller than 8 feet by 12 feet, 23 hours a day.

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SPIDER33Feb. 22, 13 6:31 AM

Tough Hop. Don't be a Violent Criminal. Be a Solid member of society and you won't be punished.

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drfranktFeb. 22, 13 6:57 AM

There are some that should be denied human contact based on their history. They didn't end up in solitary confinement for their good social graces.

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owatonnabillFeb. 22, 13 7:00 AM

This is a question with no easy answers. There is no reason to doubt Mr. Will's numbers as to the ratio of Americans incarcerated vs. that of the rest of the world. One can recognize that it is expensive to keep someone locked up and in this day and age of inflation and tight money there is just not a lot of public sentiment for what many would see as coddling the criminals. One can recognize as well how the gang culture permeates prisons in America, and that if inmates were allowed more freedom of contact, the number of inmate deaths and injuries would rise sharply. Yet none of these examples contains the seeds of a real answer. The number of prisoners locked up for violent crimes has remained constant in the last decade or so. The increase of total persons locked up (and it is substantial) is made up primarily by NONviolent felons sentenced to prison, and the overwhelming number of them (an estimated three quarters of all nonviolent felons) were for drug-related crimes. Purely and simply, our prison overcrowding is due in large part to the (IMO) useless and wasteful "war on drugs". The answer to better prisons is not more bricks and mortar, or more guards, or better "correctional" technique. The answer is to cut back on the number of felons entering the front gate, and THAT is most efficiently done by decriminalizing drugs, and then treating the addicts like the ill people they are, should they wish treatment. This is not an easy answer--decades of prejudice and preconceptions on the part of Joe Public would have to be overcome--but it is the most effective AND the most cost-effective way of dealing with the problem.

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ruphinaFeb. 22, 13 7:20 AM

Actually, ALL prisoners should be in solitary with NO CONTACT with other prisoners. For non-violent crimes, we could dramatically shorten the terms. The problem with prisons IS the contact with other prisoners, causing them to be brutalized, giving them the opportunity to train each other in criminal activities, and to develop contact networks with other criminals. Eliminate that contact, dramatically shorten sentences, and send them back out with now new criminal skills or friends. Let them read (censored), but no internet, very little TV (also censored- I suggest 24/7 Lawrence Welk re-runs), phone privileges once a week (taped and revocable). Bill G.

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furguson11Feb. 22, 13 9:16 AM

I generally like George Will, but he doesn't know much about jails and prisons. In America, most jails have classification systems that assess risk of misconduct of prisoners in the facility based on their own behavior. Low risk offenders live with low risk and high risk live with high risk (we don't want to run a club where you introduce low risk to high risk folks). Offenders can end up in lockdown for a few reasons, including danger to others, danger to themselves (retribution) or even on their own request. Yes, the minimum time out is mandated by statute and rule to be one hour out a day, but it may be higher than that depending on the unit. Sometimes they may be put into lockdown as a result of a rule violation (prisons generally have a set of rules that apply to anyone), but prisoners can also earn their way to better quarters/programming by following the rules. Frankly, there is a financial disincentive to lock everyone down, offenders are harder to manage and supervise, so it takes more staff because these are smaller and more secure units. Plus, most officers working in jails and prisons now understand that incarceration is temporary, most prisoners get released back out to society eventually. There's not a lot of upside to breaking someone on the inside, it just makes the prison guards job harder and more dangers. Solitary confinement is the last option.

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firefight41Feb. 22, 13 9:55 AM

"Clearly, solitary confinement involves much more than the isolation of incorrigibly violent individuals for the protection of other inmates or prison personnel" *********** I do not know how this statement can be made since it is not that clear, and he does not support it with facts.

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hermajestyFeb. 22, 1310:14 AM

MAYBE the real psychopaths of the world should be in solitary, but from what I understand, the threshold for being in solitary is very low, and certain control-freak guards enjoy watching for minor rule violations by inmates and reporting them for punishment, i.e. solitary.

I think that some of you above are having trouble understanding that most of the people we have in prison in the U.S. would NOT be put into prison in most of the civilized world--they'd be in drug treatment or mental health treatment. We have a very poor infrastructure for treating mental illness, so mentally ill people are thrown into prisons and jails for lack of any place else to put them.

Sentencing minor drug offenders to prison is a huge mistake, too, because most of them are young, and they get out in their late twenties or early thirties with no job experience and a lot of anger inside.

Sometimes the American system is really mean and dumb.

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jgmanciniFeb. 22, 1310:26 AM

firefight41--The statement is not clear or supported by facts if you read it by itself, out of context of the rest of the article. Actually, the whole article supports that statement, and you're asking a little much of the author to cram every fact into one sentence. Here's a section from further along in the article that both explains and supports the statement you don't understand. "Isolation changes the way the brain works, often making individuals more impulsive, less able to control themselves. The mental pain of solitary confinement is crippling: Brain studies reveal durable impairments and abnormalities in individuals denied social interaction. Plainly put, prisoners often lose their minds."

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firefight41Feb. 22, 1310:36 AM

Sentencing minor drug offenders to prison is a huge mistake, too, because most of them are young, and they get out in their late twenties or early thirties with no job experience and a lot of anger inside. ************ What minor drug offence are you speaking about?

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firefight41Feb. 22, 1310:47 AM

The statement is not clear or supported by facts if you read it by itself, out of context of the rest of the article. Actually, the whole article supports that statement, and you're asking a little much of the author to cram every fact into one sentence. Here's a section from further along in the article that both explains and supports the statement you don't understand. "Isolation changes the way the brain works, often making individuals more impulsive, less able to control themselves. The mental pain of solitary confinement is crippling: Brain studies reveal durable impairments and abnormalities in individuals denied social interaction. Plainly put, prisoners often lose their minds." ************ The statement “Clearly, solitary confinement involves much more than the isolation of incorrigibly violent individuals for the protection of other inmates or prison personnel” was made after a 4 paragraphs of data about percent of prisoners incarcerate, and how solitary confinement is arguable against the eighth amendment. So all prior information before his statement does not make it clear on what solitary confinement involves and is very disingenuous as to where it was stated. I understand your point, it would have been more clear if this statement would have been at the end of his opinion instead of being close to the beginning. Myself, I would have made that statement as a conclusion for the argument.

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