The New Yorker magazine has just published an important article questioning whether the widespread use of solitary confinement in the US prison system should be outlawed as a form of torture.
It’s an in-depth piece that piece that looks at numerous cases of people who have experienced solitary confinement first hand, either as hostages or legitimate prisoners, and discusses the psychological impact of this extreme form of social isolation.
I’ve just looked up the research on the effects of solitary confinement and there’s remarkably little, although everything I could find that directly addressed the question found that it had a negative impact on the mind.
In fact, the ‘The Istanbul statement on the use and effects of solitary confinement’ [pdf], an international consensus statement on solitary confinement, notes that it “harms prisoners who are not previously mentally ill and tends to worsen the mental health of those who are” and questions whether it breaches UN Human Rights laws.
It also describes the punishment as being linked to “long list of symptoms ranging from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and psychosis”.
The New Yorker article contrasts the research findings with the fact that the US has a whole ‘supermax‘ prison system dedicated to solitary confinement and the highest population of prisoners kept in these conditions in the world.
It also notes the fact that there is no evidence that solitary confinement actually reduces prison violence, which it is intended to do.
The article is an important and hard-hitting piece that tries to get to convey the impact of extreme social isolation and asks some difficult questions over a common practice in the US justice system.
Link to New Yorker article ‘Hellhole’.