Studies indicate that between 80,000 – 82,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement (also known as “restricted housing” in the “special housing unit”) nationwide in state and federal prisons. To some, the punishment of being in solitary confinement may seem better than allowing prisoner-on-prisoner aggression, and studies suggest that it costs fewer dollars than the death penalty. (Death row prisoners are usually put into solitary confinement, but they suffer the additional torment of knowing that they will be “released” from it by death, which will happen at some unknown date that they have little to no control over.)

In the last few months, Aeon magazine has published a couple of articles about solitary confinement. One is “Twilight in the Box: The suicide statistics, squalor & recidivism haven’t ended solitary confinement. Maybe the brain studies will.” The second is “The concrete abyss: We know solitary confinement annihilates the minds of its victims — but what does it do to the rest of us?” The second is more philosophical as it speaks of how no human is self-sufficient in reality, but we depend on the feedback of others being in and experiencing our reality. The first is longer, uses more terms from the field of neuroscience, and gives more of the American history of solitary confinement. (The quote in the excerpt for this blog post is from the first article.) Both are profoundly disturbing and tell stories that require a strong stomach to read.

Of course, as long as we’re fine with being people who ignore what happens to others in our society once we decide that they’re criminals, we don’t have to read about it. But even if we believe injustices in our law enforcement system are just too big to tackle, it is more honest to read, to learn, and to know what is really going on — to know what we do to dehumanize our fellow Americans.


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