Some 88,000 inmates of state and federal prisons are in some form of solitary confinement, although it’s not called by its real name. But concern about abusive detention — even on death row — has reached all the way to the US Supreme Court. Writing about a case dealing with a different subject, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy recently stunned court watchers by condemning solitary confinement. He noted that, as long ago as 1890, the Court acknowledged that solitary can lead to madness and suicide, and listed possible side effects including: anxiety panic, withdrawal, hallucinations and self-mutilation.
The mental damage caused by isolation is well known, but often inmates are released directly from solitary into the general population outside. Some prison systems are trying to change their ways. We look at the practice of solitary confinement and the available alternatives.