This Week’s Report: Solitary Confinement

Tens of thousands of U.S. prison inmates are locked in solitary confinement for months or years at a stretch, a practice that some prison officials defend as necessary but that critics charge is rarely justified.   

“Accounts of bizarre and self-destructive behavior by prisoners have multiplied as long-term solitary confinement has become commonplace in the U.S. prison system over the past two decades,” veteran journalist Peter Katel writes. And “questions about psychological effects are part of a larger debate in criminal-justice and human-rights circles over whether confining anyone for long periods in strict isolation is humane and whether isolation is effective in keeping order” in prisons.    

But supporters of solitary confinement and special “supermax” prisons say prisoner isolation is “essential for public safety and management of potentially explosive prison populations,” Katel continues. “Strict solitary keeps highly dangerous inmates in conditions in which they’re less able to harm prison staff or other inmates or induce other prisoners to commit violent acts.” 

This report is ideal for classes and papers on criminal justice, human rights, public safety,   psychology, mental health and general public policy.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor