Solitary Confinement: A New Perspective

This past weekend I was honored with the opportunity to participate in the 50th annual Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature General Assembly. For those who are unfamiliar with the organization, T.I.S.L. is a college-level organization that gives students the opportunity to participate in mock state legislature. The four-day event occurs at the state capitol in Nashville, Tennessee. As a participant, you have the opportunity to compete in either AMC3, Lobbying, Media, or Legislature. It’s basically a bunch of dressed up college students pretending to be members of Congress for four days! I would highly recommend T.I.S.L. to anyone interested in government or anything related to the executive branch! As part of the Legislature, I was given the task to create a bill and present it to the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, my bill was not passed in the senate. Quick high school AP Government lesson: if a bill fails in one chamber, it fails completely. As a result, I was unable to present my bill at all. However, that doesn’t take away from the importance of the cause. My bill boldly called for the barring of solitary confinement in exchange for mental and behavioral treatment for prisoners in all Tennessee prisons.  

Mass incarceration is a destructive issue that affects an estimated 2.3 million people per year. The most difficult problem with mass incarceration is that within the prison structure there are an unlimited amount of issues that are direct results of increasing prison populations. One of those issues is solitary confinement, an estimated 68,000 people are affected. For clarification purposes, solitary confinement is when a prisoner is separated from the general population and put in an isolating chamber of rest. Though some may disagree, there are no positives to the practice of solitary confinement. Rather, solitary confinement is extremely dangerous for prisoners.

Solitary confinement is a contradicting practice. Those who are for the use of solitary confinement often defend the practice with the assertion that it decreases prison violence. However, it’s important to question how valid this argument is if prison violence still exists in large numbers. A plethora of research supports the assertion that solitary confinement actually increases prison violence. Research has found that when human beings are put in isolation for any period of time, they have an increased likelihood of becoming depressed, anxious, paranoid, and aggressive. All of these harsh consequences make it even more likely for the prisoner to commit violent acts in the future. Instead of decreasing prison violence, solitary confinement makes it even more likely to occur. 

The best way to combat this cycle is not by reforming solitary confinement or limiting the time a person can be subjected to solitary confinement. Rather, the solution is to abolish solitary confinement in its entirety. Instead, evaluating and treating prisoners for mental and behavioral issues is a more effective practice. This allows a certified psychologist to determine the core of a prisoner’s aggression, and from there, be able to treat it. This will make the behavioral changes more effective, and in the long run, more durable.

Solitary confinement may not seem like the most appealing topic to discuss, but it is necessary. Prisoners should not be considered separate from society. It’s easy for us to go about our lives, completely forgetting about this suffering population. Coddling prisoners may not be the general consensus, but treating them with respect and dignity should be the standard. It’s important to remember that regardless of our sentiments towards their previous acts; prisoners are still citizens of America and should be treated as such.