From what I’ve witnessed inside, solitary confinement increases the agitation, anxiety and antisocial tendencies of the functionally impaired who have been moved to isolation as a form of ‘managing’ them. Here, in print, is proof of what I have observed. It’s not only beyond harshly punitive – perhaps even beyond humane – but in fact rewires inmates’ brains. In other words, prolonged isolation makes them worse, even when they weren’t ‘mentally ill’ to begin with.
Shruti Ravindran, who authored the piece, writes:
“Prison authorities in every state are running a massive uncontrolled experiment … And every day, the products of these trials trickle out on to the streets, with their prospects of rehabilitation professionally, socially, even physiologically diminished. The Box, as psychologists and psychiatrists have been saying for decades, damages the mind. But evidence from neuroscience increasingly suggests that it is irrevocably harming the brain, too.
…In the public imagination, these sentences are handed to ruthless mass-murderers on death row, not .. the perpetrators of the kinds of offences enumerated in inmate misbehaviour reports: collecting too many stamps; possessing ‘contraband’ such as phone cards or nail varnish, or condiments such as pepper or curry powder; refusing to return a food tray; declining to submit to a urine analysis test; spitting on a correctional officer; erecting a makeshift ‘privacy curtain’ in order to perform ablutions out of a bunkmate’s sight; inflicting self-harm.
… As years passed, an irrefutable body of work in a range of species established that social interactions across complex terrain could nourish and boost the brain, while impoverished surroundings diminished it in every stage of life … Recent findings suggest that chronic stress can lay down intransigent memories as well – especially those associated with aggression, violence or fear.
Isolation puts prisoners at risk of anxiety, panic, chronic depression, rage, loss of control, paranoia, hallucinations, self-mutilation
Meanwhile, every year, thousands of inmates leave solitary cells to join the ranks of parolees outside prison, their minds altered by an experience so fraught with risk that scientists require special dispensation to do it to animals.”
It is beyond time to bring antiquated prison practices up to modern understanding of brain science. Otherwise we are all hamsters spinning ourselves into an endless loop of hopelessness and expense, creating problems more insurmountable than those we started with.