Thursday, February 21, 2013

Solitary Confinement is Torture

George Will takes on one of worst human rights abuses in contemporary America:
Supermax prisons isolate inmates from social contact. Often prisoners are in their cells, sometimes smaller than 8 by 12 feet, 23 hours a day, released only for a shower or exercise in a small fenced-in outdoor space. Isolation changes the way the brain works, often making individuals more impulsive, less able to control themselves. The mental pain of solitary confinement is crippling: Brain studies reveal durable impairments and abnormalities in individuals denied social interaction. Plainly put, prisoners often lose their minds.
And he found this from Charles Dickens, who toured Philadelphia's all-solitary Eastern State Penitentiary in 1842:
I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.
I hope liberal activists, evangelical Christians, and libertarians can come together to curtail this grotesque misuse of state power.


pootrsox said...

All the horrible consequences being true, I still have one question:

What does one do with the real-life Hannibal Lecters?

John said...

A reasonable question, but how many such people are there? Certainly not enough to fill the tens of thousands of SuperMax cells. Wardens like to argue that they need solitary to protect inmates from the worst thugs, and maybe it needs to be there as a threat. But, again, that is no excuse to lock up thousands of people in solitary indefinitely.

Incidentally, that is exactly the question my father asked when he and I argued about capital punishment; in his view it should be an option for people so evil that they even poison prisons.