BY MAXIME VILLENEUVE
Photo by publik15; some rights reserved.
According to the New York Times, there are well over 25,000 inmates in the United States living under prolonged solitary confinement. This is a practice that has been under increased scrutiny recently because of the lasting and damaging psychological damage it does to a person. Humans are naturally social creatures, and being confined to a cell for 23 hours a day, for days on end is enough to drive many people insane.
Is there a better way? A prison in Mississippi recently changed its entire approach in incarcerating the men there. They built basketball courts, a community dining room, and allowed the men more privileges with good behavior. The results were immediate: violence dropped significantly, the men participated in rehab programs, and so many inmates improved that the prison was able to shut down its maximum security unit, saving the taxpayers of Mississippi millions of dollars.
The US has such a large prison population that it is time for us as a society to rethink how we deal with criminal justice issues, including the conditions those must endure when incarcerated. It does us no good as a society to dehumanize prisoners and break their spirits through torturous and inhumane practices. A judge in 2001 ruled that "[Solitary confinement] units are virtual incubators of psychoses -- seeding illness in otherwise healthy inmates and exacerbating illness in those already suffering from mental infirmities." By denying persons who are incarcerated even basic human interaction, we are depriving them of a chance to reform their ways. Solitary confinement is a crucible that is intended only to destroy, and as such it must be considered to be torture.
It is not the attempt of this post to argue that occasional instances where people must be isolated for security or judicial procedure are torturous. There are indeed instances where it is morally permissible to do so. But extended solitary confinement as a punishment must be considered to be immoral because it punishes by dehumanizing. Would we not consider leaving a dog in a closet for days on end (even if his basic biological needs are met) to be neglectful and thus immoral? If it would be wrong to put a dog in a closet for a month or a year, how much more wrong would it be to lock a person away for years on end, as we currently do?
In building a culture that respects all life, we need to end torturous practices, such as solitary confinement, in order to uphold the dignity of every human person. For us, that means questioning and testing politicians (especially those who promise to be "tough on crime") and making sure that they will bring true humanitarian reform to our prison systems. We cannot be a moral and virtuous people if we engage in torturous psychological warfare on those in our prisons.
Do you agree? Tell me what you think in the comments below!