The Box
February 28, 2014 9:10 PM   Subscribe

Twilight in the Box. "The suicide statistics, the squalor and the recidivism haven’t ended solitary confinement. Maybe the brain studies will." [Via]
posted by homunculus (24 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

The problem isn't awareness. The problem is that a significant constituency wants it to be that bad.
posted by fatbird at 9:13 PM on February 28, 2014 [45 favorites]

Such studies still leave important questions unanswered: does solitary draw in an especially vulnerable subgroup of prisoners? Does isolation damage or transform the brain? Or both?

Grassian is convinced that both are true – the first, from his research, and the second, from his experiences visiting hundreds of prisoners in isolation units across the country. ‘Punish him, punish him, punish him: that’s the only thing the correctional system knows to do,’ he told me. But the kind of prisoners who tend to be in solitary don’t respond to a rational calculus of means and ends and ‘that paradigm holds valid for an exceedingly small fraction of the prison population.’ His research and observations have lent strength to several important federal court decisions, including the landmark 1995 case Madrid v Gomez, in which the court called for the removal of prisoners with psychiatric problems from isolation, and the judge conceded that the conditions in SHUs ‘may well hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience’.

posted by salvia at 10:12 PM on February 28, 2014

This is America. The brutality and the sadism are the point of solitary.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:42 PM on February 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

The problem isn't awareness. The problem is that a significant constituency wants it to be that bad.

The only way any of this is ever going to change is money. The situation today is that incarceration, and more incarceration thanks to recidivism, and ultimately max and supermax style solitary, is profitable as hell and the very lobbies that represent the firms building and staffing the private prison system are capable of (and effective at) continually rewriting laws to make more of all of this happen.

The only way any of this is ever going to change is if it becomes less profitable.

It's all well and good to long for a more just society with less mistreatment, but that's an argument that will never sway any of the people actually in charge of this stuff. So either we need a better argument, or we need to change who's in charge of this stuff.
posted by trackofalljades at 11:03 PM on February 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

The problem isn't awareness. The problem is that a significant constituency wants it to be that bad.

America's turned into a nation which shoots at things that scare it. Not overnight, of course. The most complete articulation of that development, though, was evinced in the belligerence and militarism that characterized post-9/11 America, and now states like Florida pass laws which legalize terrified murder. This cultural logic pervades the systems of force in the state, from police to prisons.
posted by clockzero at 12:08 AM on March 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

America's turned into a nation which shoots at things that scare it.

“Stand Your Ground” Nation
posted by homunculus at 1:57 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

There was an NPR story the other week about the well-known shortage of lethal injection drugs, of which one effect is that prisons are using various wacky cocktails that have resulted in protracted, painful, and otherwise botched executions. And I'm like, "Dude, you realize that half of the people who hear this story are probably saying, 'Hooray,' right?"

Unless you can convince people that torturing prisoners is somehow interfering with their children's god given right as high school honors students to have free and unfettered access to AP classes and glee club, I don't see reform gaining traction.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:52 AM on March 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

FelliniBlank except it was on NPR not WND so most of the listeners were probably not thrilled.
posted by MrBobaFett at 5:02 AM on March 1, 2014

I'm not against a criminal being solitarily confined for life in lieu of execution for particularly brutal crimes but a month in the hole for not bussing your own tray seems excessive.

This will end eventually for fiscal reasons, not moral ones.
posted by Renoroc at 6:30 AM on March 1, 2014

The oubliette
posted by grobstein at 6:40 AM on March 1, 2014

I know why everyone is saying it's hopeless to even hope the people doing/voting for/supporting/celebrating this treatment of criminals but I really have to hope we CAN ask the people who value this kind of torture to change.

The prison system takes in so many people who are acting out in crisis situation and who are facing disabilities, skill deficits, adverse childhoods that led to poor development, low IQ and a need for help navigating life..... Many of these are people we should have been helping to begin with, which includes helping their families to begin with. We are CREATING a large portion of these criminals and society needs to be more accountable to that and educated about the reality of exactly how they are contributing to the creation of people with behavior problems and developmental issues to becoming functional adults who can care for themselves.

I know sometimes holding on to hope things can change is more exhausting, but it's the only way change can be possible. Hold on to hope. I think education and the spread of compassionate values and education about how and why certain people have behavior problems and what horrors some criminals lived through to become that way is something many people ARE lacking. And it can't change the minds of people who are true sadists, but it might change the minds of people with selective amounts of empathy but a lack of understanding of very complex phenomena.
posted by xarnop at 6:42 AM on March 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

Informative article, thanks for the post, homunculus.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:31 AM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fuuuck, I need this kind of isolation to start writing the magnum opus. Ossifers, I am a crackhead mofo please come and bust me and throw me in solitary pleeeeease!
posted by telstar at 5:50 PM on March 1, 2014

I hope you realize, even if that was a joke, that means you think it's funny that we think you are more concerned with the artistic benefits of voluntary solitary confinement than you are with the various injuries of the involuntary kind.

Basically it's the kind of thing where it would be horrible if you were serious, but it's worse that you were joking.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:02 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Plot From Solitary: Four alleged members of rival gangs launched a hunger strike 30,000 strong from the isolation of their Supermax cells. Was the prison system that corralled them not strong enough, or is solitary confinement an impossible idea?

Very interesting article!
posted by salvia at 8:53 PM on March 1, 2014

Twilight Zone: The Lonely (November 13, 1959) SLYT.
posted by cenoxo at 6:24 AM on March 2, 2014

Patient in a mental hospital, Haiti 1959 (high res) by W. Eugene Smith.
posted by cenoxo at 7:08 AM on March 2, 2014

NY Times: The Archipelago Of Pain , David Brooks
The larger point is we need to obliterate the assumption that inflicting any amount of social pain is O.K. because it’s not real pain.

When you put people in prison, you are imposing pain on them. But that doesn’t mean you have to gouge out the nourishment that humans need for health, which is social, emotional and relational.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:17 AM on March 8, 2014

15 Years In Environment Of Constant Fear Somehow Fails To Rehabilitate Prisoner
“It just doesn’t seem possible that an inmate could live for a decade and a half in a completely dehumanizing environment in which violent felons were constantly on the verge of attacking or even killing him and not emerge an emotionally stable, productive member of society,” said chief warden Albert Gunderson, who noted that, as hard as it was to believe, Raney’s recidivism proved that his criminal impulses had not in fact been corrected by the sense of grave distrust he felt toward every other person in the facility, including both fellow inmates and prison authorities, every day since 1999.
Prison Reform As Enlightened Self-Interest
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:03 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

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