The Horrors of Solitary Confinement
February 2, 2015 10:29 PM   Subscribe

 
'Refinement'?

I do not think this word means what they think it means.
posted by pompomtom at 10:43 PM on February 2, 2015


"Refinement," in the sense of refining metal, where impurities like the Eighth Amendment are removed and all that remains is an ingot of suffering
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:47 PM on February 2, 2015 [35 favorites]


The USA leads the world in torture (which is what long-term solitary confinement is); there are at any given time something like 80,000 US prisoners in solitary (which is more than there are prisoners, full stop, in most countries).

Some further relevant readings:

Solitary Confinement is a Tried and True Torture Device

Hellhole

Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America's Prisons.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 10:58 PM on February 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


For people like child murderer Myra Hindley, I'm totally OK with lifetime solitary.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:15 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm no more okay with it than I would be with constant waterboarding or beatings. Which is to say, not at all. It is horrifying on every level and indicates terrible things about our blind, vindictive system.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 12:27 AM on February 3, 2015 [28 favorites]


This won't end well. I saw a documentary once where they tried this on Kevin Bacon. He killed a man with a spoon afterwards.
posted by mannequito at 12:31 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it's literally torture. You may as well be voicing your support for more judges handing down gang-raping as a sentence.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:31 AM on February 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


But then, in our prison system, gang-raping IS often part of the sentence.
(What would Jay Leno have done all those years if he couldn't make Prison Rape jokes?)
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:54 AM on February 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


That's not actually a defense!
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:58 AM on February 3, 2015


War without end, solitary confinement without end, racism without end. If America could just stop constantly making obstinacy in the service of moral disasters a civic virtue, maybe life here wouldn't be quite so demoralizing.
posted by clockzero at 1:17 AM on February 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


> For people like child murderer Myra Hindley, I'm totally OK with lifetime solitary.

On an individual level yes, I may personally feel that way about certain prisoners, but even if we don't take possible wrongful convictions into consideration (or in the case of Guantánamo, not even any convictions at all), I think that the way a country treats its prisoners is a pretty eloquent statement about the kind of society it is and how it values human lives.
posted by moody cow at 1:48 AM on February 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


> On an individual level yes, I may personally feel that way about certain prisoners, but even if we don't take
> possible wrongful convictions into consideration

Absolutely, but in that case they were demonstrably guilty, they taped themselves in the act.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:53 AM on February 3, 2015


.
posted by adept256 at 2:09 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


GallonOfAlon:

That may be, but you are arguing the exception to defend the rule. Solitary confinement may be warranted in certain circumstances; but increasingly, it is a practice that is applied arbitarily (see the article, apparently, one Gitmo detainee got solitary for calling a guard stupid), vaguely (without definite end), and overbroadly. It is that solitary confinement is becoming the norm of the penal experience, and that there are no guidelines nor ability to contest the decision to place someone in solitary.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 2:56 AM on February 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


Prison Architect is currently in early access on Steam. It's made by the same people that made Darwinia, Uplink and Defcon.

Similar to games like theme hospital in style, you run a private prison in the United States. Money is tight, and you get more the more prisoners you get. So you build cells to minimum requirement. Jail cells require a toilet, solitary does not. In fact, solitary requires nothing but 4 walls and a door. So that's what you build. Because you don't have the money to build something better, and to be honest the mild benefit you get from having happier prisoners certainly won't compensate for the cost of it.

The problem with prisoners is that, like many of those whose lives we have been making worse in the last few decades, we can imagine we will never be in their position. We won't need to live on unemployment benefits, or housing benefit, because we are sensible people who save and apply for jobs. We won't ever be on disability, we won't be homeless. But the one thing everyone is certain they will never be is in prison. So who cares what happens to prisoners anyway? After all, they brought it on themselves, right? They chose to commit a crime, so they must have known what the consequences might be? And anyway, the worse you make prison the less prisoners would want to go there anyway. I mean, some of these prisoners get to go for a walk once a day and sometimes watch TV. It's like a holiday really.

This attitude from a lot of people has led to politicians going the easy route. Cutting money to prisons, thus leading them to being worse. Talking tough even when such policies don't actually result in any improvement, but certainly result in more profits. I remember reading Great Expectations and our English teacher explaining paupers prisons, the way the indebted would be stuck in horrific conditions in jail.

So how did it get better, and how does it get worse? I think eyeballs, and confronting people with the horror of what is being done is at least part of the answer. The less easy it is for people to turn their backs on the way prisoners are being treated, then the harder it is for them to pretend that this kind of thing should be allowed in civilised society.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:02 AM on February 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


For people like child murderer Myra Hindley, I'm totally OK with lifetime solitary.

so, which bad people is it not OK to torture?

its not surprising that so many people agree that it's OK to torture sine bad people: that's exactly the belief that shows these practices to continue. it's like the gun problem in the us, until we stop believing It's ok to shoot bad people nothing will ever change.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:31 AM on February 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


For people like child murderer Myra Hindley, I'm totally OK with lifetime solitary.

Her partner in crime, Ian Brady, demanded solitary confinement.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:44 AM on February 3, 2015


Even in cases like Myra Hindley I wouldn't advocate for lifetime solitary confinement. I like the fact that I live somewhere with no death penalty. But what would be the point of sparing even the "worst" criminals death in order to sentence them to an unspeakable life? The long, slow death of Self resulting from being totally isolated from other people is a cruel and unusual punishment for social animals. How can we feel it's ok to treat fellow humans in a way that would horrify us if applied to a dog? I can't understand any society's claim to be civilised as long as this goes on.
posted by billiebee at 4:02 AM on February 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


> But what would be the point of sparing even the "worst" criminals death in order to sentence them to an
> unspeakable life?

The deterrent effect?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:06 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


If the deterrent effect worked prisons would be empty.
posted by billiebee at 4:16 AM on February 3, 2015 [54 favorites]


Unspeakable evil! It's the normal, everyday thing in America today. Isn't that sweet? That's "America the Beautiful" at the dawn of the 21st Century.

The "land of the free" is now the land of permanent solitary confinement.

I wish I could continue in this cynical tone, but my stomach hurts and the tears interfere with my vision.

I am a Christian. How's Yellowstone doing these days? Seems maybe time it blew.
posted by Goofyy at 4:33 AM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


If the deterrent effect worked prisons would be empty.

Nope. The deterrent effect "working" does not mean perfect deterrence. If crimes went entirely unpunished, there would be a lot more crime. But no matter how severe you make the punishments, they will never deter all crime. At some point the deterrence curve begins to flatten out and increased severity causes the punishments to become increasingly inhumane without having the intended effect on deterrence. The US is regrettably far along this path already. In the prevailing myopic, partisan political culture things are unlikely to change for the better (towards, say, the Scandinavian model) by much in the foreseeable future.
posted by jklaiho at 4:40 AM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


The deterrence effect is also based pretty much exclusivity on likelihood you'll be punished for a transgression, with the severity of the punishment having zero relevance. It's why nobody stopped downloading MP3s ten years ago despite the occasional news story about old people losing their retirement savings because their granddaughter downloaded music, whereas if everyone knew that 90% of the time you got a fine in the mail for $2.50 per song you downloaded, everyone would have just gone to the CD shop or iTunes without exception.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:46 AM on February 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


Just to be clear: in my take on deterrence, I don't mean to advocate for life imprisonment in the "imprisoned until death without the possibility of parole" sense; the surrounding context could be seen to imply that.
posted by jklaiho at 4:51 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here in Canada, there was an inquest recently after a young woman killed herself in confinement. One of the recommendations made was, not surprisingly, the abolition of indefinite solitary. The government has refused, as they are wont to do.

There's been a lawsuit that's just been brought by the BC Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society. Their website has a bunch of great resources on the problems with it.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:07 AM on February 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


One of the great enraging frustrations of my country is how few of us seem to understand that actions are what differentiates the good people from the bad. Your belief in yourself as a good person and your moral outrage have precisely fuck-all to do with it. Justice isn't about making you feel better.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:28 AM on February 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


Absolutely, but in that case they were demonstrably guilty, they taped themselves in the act.

In that case, they should definitely put her in some sort of theme park where she's chased by bat-wielding henchmen and zombies with cell phones film her and then at the end of the day they erase her brain and make her do it all over again
posted by fungible at 5:29 AM on February 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


There's been a lawsuit that's just been brought by the BC Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society. Their website has a bunch of great resources on the problems with it.

"Hi, I'm David Hicks. When you were Prime Minister you left me in Guantanamo Bay for five and half years. During that time I was detained without charge for a long time, I was denied a fair trial, I was tortured,"

In response, Mr Howard said, "Isn't it a great country that allows this sort of exchange to occur."

John Howard is a worm. Dunno about this society, but I don't trust him
posted by adept256 at 5:36 AM on February 3, 2015


Wrong John Howard.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:56 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Apologies. What a cruel historical coincidence.
posted by adept256 at 6:02 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Seems to me a room all to yourself where you can ruminate about what brought you there without physical or sexual abuse is a treat.
posted by Renoroc at 6:19 AM on February 3, 2015


I remember some saying about the importance of being cautious that you don't become the monsters you are fighting. But I suppose fuck that, easier just to throw them in a dark hole and forget about them.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:23 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


How's that working for you?
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:24 AM on February 3, 2015


GallonOfAlan: For people like child murderer Myra Hindley, I'm totally OK with lifetime solitary.
You and the people who think some other crime should be exempt from the "cruel and unusual" prohibition will get along fine. Some of them include crimes like being gay, voting for Obama, and so on, but why should that worry you? You're morally pure! Your cause is just!

The reason we don't torture is not that some people don't deserve it. It's that we're not capable, as a people, of showing restraint when we take that muzzle off our "justice" system. Guantanemo, and all the secret, US-Laws-Don't-Apply-Here CIA detention sites, prove this.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:25 AM on February 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


Not that I think any prisoner's culpability justifies their treatment at Guantánamo, but since he was just mentioned and this was reported a week-and-a-half or so ago: David Hicks terrorism charges: US admits he is innocent
posted by moody cow at 6:26 AM on February 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


In that case, they should definitely put her in some sort of theme park where she's chased by bat-wielding henchmen and zombies with cell phones film her and then at the end of the day they erase her brain and make her do it all over again

For those who don't watch Black Mirror and who think the sky should be the limit on punishment for people like Myra Hindley, watch the episode called "White Bear."

There's what you are fucking asking for. Look at it. Look at it. Do not dare turn away. LOOK AT IT.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:46 AM on February 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


Solitary confinement seems to be a lifestyle choice for people on the outside and it doesn't deter them from breaking the law anyway.

Between television and the Internet, people have already willingly confined themselves in such a manner, especially if they already live in a tiny, big city condo, shop online, and don't have a car.

If they go to jail, they won't know the difference...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:10 AM on February 3, 2015


"Solitary confinement seems to be a lifestyle choice for people on the outside and it doesn't deter them from breaking the law anyway.

Between television and the Internet, people have already willingly confined themselves in such a manner, especially if they already live in a tiny, big city condo, shop online, and don't have a car.

If they go to jail, they won't know the difference..."


I get what you're trying to say about free people, but in regards to those who actually have to live in solitary confinement:

No. Just no. So Much No. All the Noes.

It's thinking like this that allows us to construe psychological torture as humane.

I just -- No.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 7:17 AM on February 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


Solitary confinement seems to be a lifestyle choice for people on the outside and it doesn't deter them from breaking the law anyway.

Between television and the Internet, people have already willingly confined themselves in such a manner, especially if they already live in a tiny, big city condo, shop online, and don't have a car.

If they go to jail, they won't know the difference...


Also, some people voluntarily take showers, so waterboarding is probably fine.
posted by milk white peacock at 7:36 AM on February 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


Solitary confinement seems to be a lifestyle choice for people on the outside and it doesn't deter them from breaking the law anyway.

Ooh yeah. Oh, and look at all that stuff the BDSM community get up to! We can do that to prisoners too! And and think of all that free work for the community that some people do! Why, just think of the benefits of making the prisoners do that sort of stuff without pay. The possibilities are boundless!


(Yeah, I know that others have said just the same thing, but I really wanted to make sure my 'NO' was in there).
posted by YAMWAK at 7:44 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Solitary confinement seems to be a lifestyle choice for people on the outside and it doesn't deter them from breaking the law anyway.

Between television and the Internet, people have already willingly confined themselves in such a manner, especially if they already live in a tiny, big city condo, shop online, and don't have a car.

If they go to jail, they won't know the difference...


I'm going to assume this was meant to be ironic, but on the off chance it wasn't, I'll tell you that you really need to educate yourself on what solitary confinement means in a prison setting. Start here, if you haven't already.
posted by holborne at 8:03 AM on February 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


Is there yet a cogent response to the problem of innocent people being "punished" or treated inhumanely for crimes they did not commit? Even if you believe the guilty ought to be punished, rather than separated and/or rehabilitated, that is unrelated to the causing of harm of innocent people. Is this just a blind spot, a convenient ignorance that allows people to feel good about the current system, or do some people really believe they have a moral solution to this problem?
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 8:04 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


For people like child murderer Myra Hindley, I'm totally OK with lifetime solitary.

Hard cases make bad law. This is exactly what has happened with solitary confinement.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:15 AM on February 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Seems to me a room all to yourself where you can ruminate about what brought you there without physical or sexual abuse is a treat.

If you are a sociopath that feeds on fucking with other people, then no. Then it is indeed punishment. For those that simply require human contact to maintain sanity it borders on cruel and unusual. But for solitary types it could indeed be blessed relief...
posted by jim in austin at 9:47 AM on February 3, 2015


for solitary types it could indeed be blessed relief...

People who are solitary by nature tend to at least have something to occupy them - a pet or a hobby. It's the crushing nothingness of solitary confinement that breaks people. Completely empty days, empty of all stimulation not just human contact.
...many didn’t look back at all—they had been deformed by the deficit of stimuli, the utter lack of change, the complete removal from the world...William Blake, who has spent more than 27 years in solitary in New York State, wrote in an essay for the Yale Law Journal’s Prison Law Writing Contest: “You probably think that you understand boredom, know its feel, but really you don’t. . . . [I’ve] felt boredom and loneliness to such a degree that it seemed to be a physical thing inside so thick it felt like it was choking me, trying to squeeze the sanity from my mind, the spirit from my soul . . .”
It's the stuff of nightmares.
posted by billiebee at 10:51 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


The recent thread on Michel Siffre (who isolated himself in a cave) made me think about the prison parallel. I went looking for the National Geographic version I had read and been fascinated by as a kid. Didn't find it but hit this link with a couple extracted stories.

His diary also recorded his thoughts and feelings. At first excited, Siffre eventually became depressed by the total isolation. He began to dislike the telephone, his one method of communication with the outside world, because it represented a freedom that he could not have.

His reaction to cave mice demonstrated quite clearly how he changed in the course of the experiment. During the first few weeks underground, he could hear mice at "night" as he prepared to sleep Their noises annoyed him, and he set many traps for them. He caught eight, wiping out the entire mouse colony.

Five months into the experiment, however, he was starved for companionship. On Day 162, when he heard a noise and realized that another mouse had come to visit, he was ecstatic. "Another living creature exists in Midnight Cave!" he wrote in his journal. "If I trap this rodent, I will have a companion."

posted by phoque at 11:14 AM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Seems to me a room all to yourself where you can ruminate about what brought you there without physical or sexual abuse is a treat.

Why don't you RTFA and then think about what you just said.

Solitary confinement seems to be a lifestyle choice for people on the outside and it doesn't deter them from breaking the law anyway.

Between television and the Internet, people have already willingly confined themselves in such a manner, especially if they already live in a tiny, big city condo, shop online, and don't have a car.


The point is those people have a choice. They can choose to go to a cafe and sit by themselves and hear other human voices. They can interact with people online. They're going to run into neighbours in the elevator. They impose their own social isolation, they don't have it forced upon them.

Think about how the Guantanamo illegal prisoner treated ants, for fuck's sake.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:26 AM on February 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


But for solitary types it could indeed be blessed relief

I have an Autism diagnosis. Aspergers as we used to call it before the new DSM was printed.

I can't live with people.

Yet, I cannot live without people either. Even for me, solitary would be cruel punishment.
posted by DreamerFi at 2:06 PM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


The author's book, which he alludes to on page 3 or so, is incredibly interesting. It's called Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. Images from that book have still stuck with me today (the female guard who accepted a gift from a prisoner, Conover learning not to look up his prisoners' crimes). His book Coyotes is also worth a read.
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:31 PM on February 3, 2015


I read the last article linked in Pseudonymous Cognomen's reply (a marvelous article, written by one of the American hikers who was held in an Iranian prison for 2 years) and it confirmed something I suspected about solitary confinement -- that it's more expensive to put guys in solitary than it is to house them with the general prison population.

We also know it's generally more expensive to sentence people to the death penalty than it is to have life sentences. The fact that the US insists on continuing with these woefully wasteful and expensive practices (let alone the justice and equality factors, which should really be the only argument that actually matters, but capitalism, so...) really says it all about America's ingrained sense of state-sanctioned violence and retribution.
posted by mostly vowels at 2:55 PM on February 3, 2015


I'm shocked, shocked that countries whose dominant cultures believe in a god who maintains an infinite torture chamber for people who fail to follow his intricate rules during their finite lifetimes would develop prison systems that mirror that belief system.

Snark aside, this is horrifying. I was a loner for most of my younger life - in fact I had more human contact than I wanted, since I had to go out to work - but if I was bored I always had the option of going to a bar or a movie or even just walking in a park. Being locked up with myself for 22-23 hours a day and only released according to someone else's schedule would pall very quickly.
Iqbal had scrawled the words “You are so stupid for reading this” on a piece of trash and held it up for a guard to read. The guard said Iqbal had damaged U.S. property.
I can feel for this, although annoying a guard is a pretty minor victory - and The Man always has the power to make things worse, though rarely to make things better. It's a shame Iqbal couldn't niggle the people higher up the tree who set up his situation, but I guess you have to work with what comes to hand.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 4:24 PM on February 3, 2015


Myra Hindley would be just the sort of person to get a job at a prison torturing other humans. I don't see this as a deterrent at all, but an invitation for sociopaths to get involved in prison administration. It's terrifying how easily people can become cruel when given power over others. We need to reduce that as much as possible.
posted by juiceCake at 7:24 PM on February 3, 2015


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