Moving away from solitary confinement?

Katie Rose Quandt in Mother Jones reports on a story where the use of solitary confinement in prisons is being challenged recently in New York, Colorado, Indiana, California, and in congressional hearings:

These measures seem to echo a growing uneasiness with the use of solitary, especially for nonviolent inmates. The New York State agreement emerged from a class-action lawsuit, Peoples v. Fischer, brought by the NYCLU to challenge “the constitutionality of New York State’s practice of arbitrarily sentencing tens of thousands of incarcerated individuals to months and years of extreme isolation and solitary confinement for alleged infractions that often present no threat to prison safety.” Advocates hope the introduction of sentencing guidelines will help divert nonviolent individuals from solitary confinement, and shorten the stay of those who do end up in isolation….

…the average solitary sentence in New York state prisons from 2007 to 2011 was five months. Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on Torture for the United Nations, has called for prohibition of all isolation sentences longer than 15 days. Méndez believes solitary confinement amounts to torture and inhumane treatment when used “indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities, or juveniles.”

While in isolation, inmates eat, sleep, and spend 23 hours a day in confined, windowless boxes similar to this cell in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. Studies on involuntary confinement consistently find negative psychiatric symptoms within the first 10 days of isolation. Psychiatrist Stuart Grassian says that isolated inmates often experience confusion, hallucination, overwhelming anxiety, primitive aggressive fantasies, persecutory ideation, and sudden violent outbursts.

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