Solitary Confinement Essay Example: Pros and Cons

Solitary confinement is something that has been a part of the American history prisons and jail since the 1800’s when it was first established. This is where a difficult or dangerous prisoner is isolated from any form of human contact in a time span of twenty two to twenty four hours. The individual is locked in small cells that often have strong steel doors, extensive surveillance and security controls. They are frequently handcuffed or shackled any time they leave their cells (Jeffrey L & Jamie F., 2010, pp. 441-568). This was done to rehabilitate a difficult prisoners. Moreover, the person would only make contact with the prison staff. It was a method adopted to punish the difficult prisoners that violated the prison regulations in various ways good examples are; fighting, use of obscene language, pretending to be sick, encouraging group demonstrations, gang activities and disrespecting prison authority. It was also used as a measure to protect vulnerable inmates from the rest; when one threatens to commit suicide the individual would be taken through solitary confinement for him not to access any object that would cause harm to him or her. Solitary confinement has been a controversial issue over the past years, it has its negative and positive effect on an individual. This essay will go over the history of solitary confinement and its positive and negative impact as a whole in the world of correction.

The Eastern state of Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Quaker belief prisoners isolated in stone cells with only a Bible, which with time they would use to repent, pray and reflect on their wrong doings. The Quakers advocated for it instead of inmates being subjected to whipping and humiliation in public. The practice was then adopted where in Pennsylvania’s eastern penitentiary and was referred to as a Special or Secure Housing Unit. However, the outcome was not their expectations as it led to suicide, some become very violent and it tampered with the mental activity of those who underwent the practice, therefore the practice was abandoned. It was then introduced in Alcatraz, where the most destructive and problematic inmates were isolated in D Block. The most famous inmate of D Block at the time was known as Robert Stroud he was dubbed the “Birdman of Alcatraz”. The practice was not smooth as the inmates who underwent solitary confinement grew aggressive. It had led to several murders one of such incidents was the one in Illinois’ Marion Federal Prison, in the year 1983, two correction officers were killed on the same day but in different situations. After the killings an order was issued to all the Marion Federal prisoners to be put on lockdown. This is what marked the Marion Federal Prison as the first super maximum prison in the United States of America. Inmates were kept in their respective cells for twenty three hours each and every day. This is what led to coming up super maximum facilities in the United States of America. In California, Pelican Bay was built. Inmates spent not less than twenty two and a half hours in their eight by ten foot cells the other one and a half hours were spent in an exercise pen still in solitude. In 1990, several Supermax prisons came up with America; Ohio, Mississippi, Oregon and several other states. In 1994, the president, Bill Clinton offered funds signed under the crimes bill this increased the number of super maximum prisons in America (Reiter KA, 2012, pp. 71-124). Due to this many countries were influenced by the American form of rehabilitation of difficult inmates and in turn introduced super maximum prisons or added solitary confinement rooms. This caused a serious hike in the number of prisoners. In the same year as well, ADX Florence was built and was popularly known as “Alcatraz of the Rockies” this was facilitated by the United States Bureau of Prisons. In 1995, a judge finds the Pelican Bay is being intolerant for the inmates, but does not find it constitutionally disputable and therefore the practice was left to continue. In 1999, the survey indicates that not less than thirty states are practicing solitary confinement and have come up with super maximum prisons. A professor at the Florida State University, Daniel P. Mears, performs study which reveals that up to that time more than forty states had adopted the system which approximately held twenty five thousand prisoners collectively.

Solitary confinement was meant to rehabilitate the difficult inmates. However, this act on several occasions was seen to have caused more harm to an individual than its intended purpose which was rehabilitation. The major effect was on the individual mental well-being, it tampered with the inmate psychologically. As early as in 1830s statistical evidence indicated that prisoners exposed to solitary confinement suffered from insanity. In 1890, a supreme court in the United States condemned the act on psychiatric grounds. Several prisoners fell into semi-fatuous condition leading them to become violently insane. The inmates experienced vivid hallucinations, they were paranoid, experienced restlessness, banging, yelling, assaultiveness and suffered severe confusion (Stuart G, 1983, pp. 1450-1454). It was observed when 15 inmates who had been in solitary confinement in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Walpole were interviewed by two or one psychiatrist for one and a half hours. The prisoners were observed to be very defensive, avoiding several questions they were asked and most of them suffered a denial (Stuart G., 1983, pp. 1450-1454). Being isolated in a single room strips an individual of the feeling of having control over their surroundings, this in turn causes the inmate to engage in self-destructive behavior. Individuals experiencing environmental restrictions, find it very difficult to maintain daytime alertness and nighttime sleep. They find their beds irresistible during daytime and at night they suffer from insomnia. This in turn tampers with the brain’s form of functioning. Individuals affected by this confusional psychosis do not easily recall events. The inmate becomes intolerant of social interaction, preventing the inmate from readjusting once released from detention that is; they become socially handicapped. This prevents the inmate from being a productive member of the community once released from imprisonment. Some of the inmates who underwent solitary confinement became hypersensitive to light and sound. This is because while in the cells they lacked these two factors so once they get exposed to the normal prison environment they perceive any form of sound as noise and act defensive. Their concentration levels had depreciated and most of them suffered panic attacks while in their cells. Clearly, solitary confinement was a harmful to an individual as it majorly brought about psychiatric illness and as a result, it was not seen as a form of rehabilitation (Guenther L., 2013, pp. 184).

On the other hand solitary confinement was seen to be beneficial. It prevents the difficult and dangerous inmates from harming the other inmates. There are very temperamental prisoners through solitary confinement they were tamed in order for them to be a threat to the rest of the people in the prison. Solitary confinement ensured that the tough prisoners who were desperate for freedom were not able to escape. The confinement units were built of stone with very strong steel gates. Some had small openings for lighting or food to be passed to the inmate. The units are normally under twenty four hour surveillance making it difficult for the criminals to make an escape. It was also a form of protection for the very vulnerable prisoners, for example; those that were not mentally stable, those whose sexual orientation, religion and race was contrary to the majority of the prisoners or those whose crimes are considered or perceived as the worst such as pedophiles. They were kept in solitary confinement in order for them not to be harmed by the rest of the prisoners. Solitary confinement helped in reinforcing discipline in the prisons, those found going against the prison regulations, for example; smuggling drugs, rioting and incitement, went through it in order for them to reform and not repeat the same. Moreover, the fear of being confined made most prisoners to obey the prison’s authority and go by the rules that have been laid down. It was the best method to reduce the number of suicides in the prisons. This was made possible as the manpower guarding the inmate monitors the individual closely therefore they find it difficult to access any potentially dangerous object to harm themselves. While in confinement, one was not allowed to handle any sharp object. Being placed in solitary confinement made the inmate to reflect upon his or her crime without any form of distraction from fellow inmates this assisted in reforming the individual’s character. It also built an individual spiritually as they were allowed to carry their Bibles with them, some prayed and repented so as to amend their broken relationship with God. It provided advanced protection to the general public as it gave the assurance that the very hardcore criminals would not easily sneak back to the community. Solitary confinement is a good punishment to discourage the innocent citizens from committing crimes as people really value their freedom.

Solitary confinement is an invention that has been controversial all through. Rehabilitation being its main agenda. It is seen as a good choice in certain situations, mostly those pertaining to the safety of the prisoners and the public in general. However, it is seen to affect an individual psychologically, socially and mentally. Instead of rehabilitating it deteriorates an individual’s mental health and social well-being (Arrigo, et al, 2008, pp. 622-640). In my perspective the cons overpower the pros and it would be in order if this form of punishment was lifted as it does more harm than good to an individual.


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