Saturday, April 11, 2009

Social Isolation in Prisons

Long, chilling article by Atul Gawand in the New Yorker arguing that the US should discontinue the practice of solitary confinement:
Perhaps the most careful inquiry into whether supermax prisons decrease violence and disorder was a 2003 analysis examining the experience in three states—Arizona, Illinois, and Minnesota—following the opening of their supermax prisons. The study found that levels of inmate-on-inmate violence were unchanged, and that levels of inmate-on-staff violence changed unpredictably, rising in Arizona, falling in Illinois, and holding steady in Minnesota. Prison violence, it turns out, is not simply an issue of a few belligerents.
Will The Shawshank Redemption one day be known for describing the horrors of solitary confinement, much like One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest is known for showing the horrors of frontal lobe lobotomy? Oldboy is another movie that touches on solitary confinement, especially with regard to the revenge fantasies that act as the best possible coping mechanism.

This is a scary article, and social isolation as described seems tramautizing indeed. Count me among those who would like to see its use dramatically reduced or eliminated.

(Hat tip: Dan Erwin)