Solitary confinement is not a punishment only the most hardened and dangerous criminals have to endure. In the United States, more than 81,000 people are being held in isolation cells, sometimes for years on end. The mental health effects can be devastating, from major depression, PTSD, panic disorders, to psychosis. And the practice is not limited just to adults; some juveniles end up held in solitary because they are housed in adult prisons and officials cannot find any other way to deal with questions of safety.
While prison conditions in California are so bad that the Supreme Court ordered the state to reduce the prison population, the brutal reality of solitary confinement is a major reason thousands of prisoners there began a hunger strike to get the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to end the practice of long-term solitary confinement.
As the panel on Saturday’s Melissa Harris-Perry discussed, a prisoner could find him or herself inside a 12’ by 8’ cell for nothing more than having the wrong book in a cell. According to guest Victoria Law, women in California prisons find themselves housed inside the state’s Security Housing Units because there simply isn’t enough room anywhere else.
Shane Bauer, who spend four months of the 26 he spent in an Iranian prison in solitary confinement spoke about, officials can remove someone from the general population if they believe a prisoner to be associated with a gang. No acts of violence need to be committed; many prisoners have been labeled and isolated because their reading materials were too political.
The United Nations argues that more than 15 days in solitary confinement constitutes torture, but some prisoners in the U.S. have endured decades of it. Watch the full discussion about why America holds so many people in such terrible conditions and why it is so difficult to improve those conditions.