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Solitary (2020)

On a given day last year, an estimated 55,000 to 62,500 people had spent the previous 15 days in solitary confinement in state and federal prisons, often in cells smaller than a parking space.1 Correctional officials often defend their frequent use of solitary confinement as an effective means of maintaining order and deterring violence and gang activity. But this reliance on solitary ignores the abundance of studies demonstrating the harmful and often long-lasting effects it wreaks on the human mind and body.

Solitary (2020)

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Robert King and Jack Morris, who spent a combined 62 years in solitary confinement, underscored many of the above findings at the International Symposium on Solitary Confinement. Mr. King noted that after a while, he lost his interest in communicating and experienced an emotional numbness that led to a loss of basic skills. Even since his release from prison in 2001, Mr. King says he struggles with simple things, including his sense of direction. Research indicates that many problems people develop while in solitary confinement often persist upon their return to the general population or their release to the outside world.

This EducatorResource offers a comprehensive overview of solitary confinement that includes voices of those who have been affected by it, the ethical dilemma of health and social service providers who work in criminal justice facilities, and humane alternatives. A resource database provides an extensive set of more than 300 teaching resources that can be used in a range of social work courses. This includes courses in criminal justice and practice courses in mental health, policy, community organizing and advocacy, and social justice and human rights.

What approach to teaching about solitary confinement, and incarceration more broadly, do you recommend?The most powerful teaching approach is experiential, namely involvement in relevant activities coupled with reflection. Following are some learning opportunities for students that we recommend.

"We're starting to see an alarming trend in light of COVID-19," says Jessica Sandoval of Unlock the Box, a coalition of groups fighting solitary confinement, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Before the coronavirus, according to the report, there were 60,000 people in solitary confinement. Now, in response to the pandemic, 300,000 state and federal prisoners have been confined to their cells. They've been placed in solitary confinement or in lockdown.

But in recent years, some states and the federal government have started enacting reforms. In some prisons, children, pregnant women or people with significant mental illness can no longer be held in solitary confinement.

??#UnitedStates: @NilsMelzer says prolonged solitary confinement amounts to psychological torture and he is alarmed at its excessive use by correctional facilities in the United States. Learn more:

"The severe and often irreparable psychological and physical consequences of solitary confinement and social exclusion are well documented and can range from progressively severe forms of anxiety, stress, and depression to cognitive impairment and suicidal tendencies", noted Mr. Melzer.

The 2006 European Prison Rules contained general restrictions on the use of all special safety and security measures that might impact negatively on prisoners. The 2006 Rules did not specify, however, in what circumstances prisoners could be separated from others. It did deal briefly with solitary confinement (the most extreme form of separation) as a disciplinary sanction, but was silent about other forms of separation. This void has now largely been filled by the 2020 amendments to the EPR.

Unlike the CPT standards or the Nelson Mandela Rules, the EPR still do not specify a maximum number of days for which solitary confinement may be imposed. This is unfortunate, as a bright line prohibition is an effective safeguard against abuse. However, in addition to the restrictions mentioned above, Rule 60.6.c contains an important further restriction:

In a letter exclusively obtained by City & State, a group of 137 progressive groups are demanding that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins pass on the first day of the upcoming state legislative session a bill that would limit how long inmates in local jails and state prisons can be placed in solitary confinement to 15 days.

Racial disparities are likewise vivid in prisons. The 2019 snapshot provides demographic data from reporting jurisdictions about the racial makeup of their total custodial populations and their restrictive housing populations. Aggregating the numbers from 32 states and disaggregating by gender, Black and Hispanic men were somewhat more likely to be put into restrictive housing than white men: 43 percent of Black men and 17 percent of Hispanic men were in restrictive housing, compared to 40 percent and 15 percent respectively in the total male custodial population. Black women were much more likely to be placed in isolation than other women: 42 percent of women reported to be in solitary confinement were Black, as compared to 22 percent of the total female custodial population.

The data for the 2019 snapshot was reported before COVID-19, which poses special risks to people living and working in all forms of congregate housing, of which prisons are a prime example. CLA is working across the country to respond to the need for medical quarantine, as contrasted with restrictive housing. COVID-19 ought not impede the work underway aiming to reduce the use of restrictive housing. In prior decades, isolating individuals was viewed as responsive to the problems of prison security. Increasingly, solitary confinement is seen as a problem to be solved.

People in solitary confinement have limited or no opportunity to interact with others. They eat, sleep, and use the toilet in the same area and have limited access to stimuli, such as educational materials. Solitary confinement cells do not always have windows.

A large body of research shows that solitary confinement causes adverse psychological effects and increases the risk of serious harm to individuals who experience it. According to an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, isolation can be as distressing as physical torture.

The BJS report that approximately 25% of people in prison and 35% of those in jail who had spent 30 days or longer in solitary confinement during the previous year had symptoms of serious psychological distress. The rates were similar for those who only spent 1 day in isolation.

A 2016 report from the United Nations (UN) found that most countries that use solitary confinement do so as a form of punishment. However, the actions that prisons and jails punish with isolation vary significantly from place to place.

Some researchers suggest that people in protective custody prefer solitary confinement to being in the general prison population housing because it is safer. However, they still experience the negative effects of isolation.

In general, the criminal justice system in the U.S. uses solitary confinement more widely and for longer periods than other countries. On a given day, up to 80,000 people are in isolation in state or federal prisons. This figure does not include those in isolation in jails and juvenile detention facilities.

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care, to which those working in the prison healthcare profession belong, have endorsed the Mandela rules. The American Public Health Association also recommend limiting the use of solitary confinement.

In a growing number of states, it is illegal to keep people with mental illness in solitary confinement. However, the American Psychological Association report that people with impaired mental health are still disproportionately represented in solitary confinement.

The U.S. uses solitary confinement more than some countries, with the practice disproportionately affecting Black and Hispanic people and those with mental health conditions. Solitary confinement faces strong criticism from organizations worldwide because of the harm that it causes.

A common narrative, Wildeman said, is that pre-existing issues make certain inmates more likely to end up in solitary confinement and to commit more crimes after serving sentences. Those issues, not stays in solitary, more likely cause bad outcomes.

The researchers compared the trajectories of inmates who were placed in solitary with those who were not placed in solitary after committing similar infractions (most often possession of drugs or a cellphone).

A new study found solitary activities like fishing, hunting or exploring outside are key to building strong bonds between children and nature. Activities like these encourage children to both enjoy being outside and to feel comfortable there.

While they found that children who participated in solitary activities such as hunting or fishing built strong connections to nature, they also saw that social activities outdoors, such as playing sports or camping, helped to cement the strongest bonds that they saw in children.

Abstract: Connection to nature (CTN) can help promote environmental engagement requisite for addressing extreme environmental challenges. Current generations, however, may be less connected to nature than previous ones. Spending time in nature can counter this disconnect, particularly among children. In relation to CTN, this study evaluates the relative predictive power of solitary and social time in nature, specific recreation activities (e.g., camping), and diverse backgrounds (e.g., ethnicity) through a classification tree analysis with nine-to-twelve-year olds in the southeastern U.S.A. (n = 1,285). Solitary time in nature was the most important predictor of high CTN, and social time in nature was a secondary component of high CTN. In addition, in the context of this study, hunting and fishing were the most important activities predicting high CTN. Based on these results, we suggest providing solitary outdoor activities reinforced by environmental socialization to promote CTN for all. 041b061a72


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