Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard

By Laura Markle Downton

Sept. 26, 2017

Inside most of the local jails, state and federal prisons, and detention centers that dot the landscape of the United States, on any given day, tens of thousands of incarcerated adults and youth are held in solitary confinement. For 22 to 24 hours a day, they are confined to a cell the size of a parking space for months, years, even decades. Meals are shoved through a small slit in a solid steel door. The cell may or may not have a window to the outside world. Those who have experienced this extreme isolation often describe it as being “buried alive.”

The United Nations and other developed countries consider prolonged isolation a form of torture. Solitary confinement often leads to self-harm and suicide, due to a lack of meaningful human contact. Such extreme isolation changes the chemistry of the human brain. As those in solitary suffer, so do their families and loved ones. Corrections staff working in such toxic environments experience levels of PTSD similar to veterans returning from war. Yet in the US, the practice is used arbitrarily and often.

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