By Chinaechelum Vincent
In jails and prisons all around the country, solitary confinement is used as a solution to many issues. In Philadelphia in particular, teenagers in adult prisons have faced solitary as a result of “punitive segregation, which…can sometimes last for a month at a time…where they may be given nothing but a “suicide smock” to wear; or as a matter of practical necessity.”[i] When incarcerated people may be seen as a target by the other inmates, the result is also solitary, because the facility deems it safer to be kept isolated than with the rest of the population, which in itself is questionable. The fact of the matter is that there has to be better solutions. In 2017 a woman by the name of Cassandra Barnett quit her job because her 17-year-old son had attempted suicide twice after being put in solitary. This reality was too much for her to bare as her son was being mentally torn apart.[ii] Giving incarcerated people punishment for their actions is one thing, but when that punishment only worsens them physically and mentally, the protocol ought to be reconsidered.
In January of 2018, five death row inmates along with the American Civil Liberties Union sued Pennsylvania prison officials for inhumane treatment due to a policy that allows for indefinite solitary confinement. At Graterford and Greene state prisons, the use of mandatory solitary confinement applies to 156 men sitting on death row. Like many other jails and prisons, these men exist in conditions where they are confined to a small cell for 22-24 hours a day and receive little to no human contact. The men argue that this falls under cruel and unusual punishment and violates their constitutional rights. This type of isolation has proven to result in detrimental effects such as, “substantial physical, mental and emotional harm.”[iii] There is no justification in the fact that there are people who have existed in these conditions for 16-27 years, such as the five men filing the lawsuit. They even lack the right to “participate in prison vocational, recreational or educational programs, nor can they join in any communal worship.”[iv] Their existence is solely the four walls enclosing them a room the size of a parking spot and the buzzing fluorescent lights that never go off. The only way out of this reality is death by execution or by natural causes.
The research and studies on the effects of solitary confinement are extensive and excessive. However, the proof being presented is not yielding mass change to the carceral system as it should be. This type of isolation breaks human beings and adjustments must be made. So often, what goes on behind prison walls is dismissed as the barrier between the prisoners and the outside world stands tall and firm. However, the incarcerated population is speaking out and demands to be heard. The reality of solitary confinement is a harsh and brutal one that so many people within the correctional system are enduring today and change is needed.