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Black Hole: Solitary Confinement

Prisoners in solitary confinement, also known as restricted housing units, spend most of their day alone in a cell. They’re housed this way due to committing some crime while incarcerated, or because of their threat to other inmates. Solitary confinement in prison is a form of punishment inside the punishment (prison), but there is little evidence that it actually helps correct inmate behavior. In fact, studies show that this practice often results in mental illness and suicide.


The practice of isolating inmates for 22-24 hours a day has been around since 1829. Prisons like Pelican Bay were built specifically for solitary confinement, and Alcatraz has the infamous “Hole Room” where no light penetrates, and inmates are naked and barely fed.


Extended periods of isolation can take their toll on the human body. Nervousness, nightmares, heart palpitations and heightened anger have been assessed in solitary confinement inmates at much greater levels than others. So how is this form of punishment justified if it is counterproductive to correcting negative behavior? And how much does it cost to house an isolated inmate? Prisoners in Pelican Bay cost nearly $20K more to house than those in general population.


There’s no sign that US  institutions will discontinue the practice of solitary confinement, as it is exercised in both state and federal prisons around the country.