Saturday, November 13, 2010

Solitary Confinement

One of the major arguments for stopping the use of solitary confinement as standard prison practice for all prisoners in the early 20th century was that the practice “drove men mad”.

Now there is a study reporting the opposite, greatly enhancing the discussion, as reported by the Denver Post.

An excerpt.

“A controversial study by Colorado's Corrections Department claims to debunk the widely held theory that solitary confinement harms prisoners.

“Findings seem to show not just a lack of deterioration in mental health after long periods with virtually no human contact, but also, incredibly, some slight improvement.

“The report is being ripped for its methodology. Detractors fear it will prompt Colorado and other states to warehouse more inmates in prolonged isolation.

"It's garbage in, garbage out," says Stuart Grassian, the psychiatrist internationally recognized for describing the crippling effects of solitary confinement. "Their approach is fatally flawed."

“Others — including some notable critics of isolation — defend the study.

"I was certainly surprised by its findings. We all were. But this is a serious piece of research," says Jamie Fellner, a top lawyer with Human Rights Watch who serves on the state's advisory board.

“State Corrections chief researcher Maureen O'Keefe has said her office launched the project largely because her department was concerned about being sued for civil-rights violations. Colorado houses 6.2 percent of its prisoners in so-called "administrative segregation," far more than the national average.

“The state snagged federal funding to spend a year researching the psychological effects of keeping human beings locked up 23 hours a day with almost no social interaction, their food pushed through slots in their doors. The 24th hour is for exercise and showers, also alone.

“The expectation was that prisoners would get worse.

“Instead, the report claims to show the opposite effect — a slight "improvement in psychological well-being across all study groups." It doesn't discount emotional distress, yet concludes that solitary confinement didn't cause it.”