Soli­tary con­fine­ment is tor­ture

Will a scathing re­port fi­nally force the Bureau of Prisons to put an end to this in­hu­mane prac­tice?

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

THE BUREAU of Prisons claims to have a pol­icy pro­hibit­ing soli­tary con­fine­ment, as it should. But then what do you call lock­ing up in­mates by them­selves in sin­gle cells for more than 22 hours a day for long pe­ri­ods of time with no or lim­ited en­gage­ment with oth­ers? Ac­cord­ing to a new re­port, that is pre­cisely what the fed­eral prison sys­tem does with thou­sands of prison­ers. We would call it soli­tary con­fine­ment. It would also be ac­cu­rate to call it tor­ture. And it would be fair to ask: Will a scathing re­port from the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral fi­nally im­pel of­fi­cials to put an end to this in­hu­mane prac­tice?

“Al­though the BOP has stated that it does not prac­tice soli­tary con­fine­ment, we found in­mates, in­clud­ing those with men­tal ill­ness, who were housed in sin­gle-cell con­fine­ment for long pe­ri­ods of time, iso­lated from other in­mates, with lim­ited hu­man con­tact,” wrote In­spec­tor Gen­eral Michael E. Horowitz. Re­stric­tive hous­ing place­ment is the bureau’s pre­ferred ter­mi­nol­ogy, but the re­port re­leased last week made clear that is a se­man­tic dodge. Ac­cord­ing to the in­spec­tor gen­eral, 9,749 in­mates — 7 per­cent of those con­fined by the Bureau of Prisons — were in some form of re­stricted hous­ing in June 2016. Among those forced to lan­guish alone were in­mates with se­ri­ous men­tal ill­ness, some of whom were iso­lated for more than five years.

A num­ber of state prison sys­tems have taken steps to limit or end their use of soli­tary con­fine­ment be­cause of mount­ing ev­i­dence of its detri­men­tal ef­fects. The in­spec­tor gen­eral cited re­search that iso­la­tion can cause anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, anger, para­noia and psy­chosis among prison­ers. “You have no con­tact, you don’t speak to any­body, and it’s a form of tor­ture on some level,” a psy­chol­o­gist at one prison told in­ves­ti­ga­tors. End­ing such bar­bar­ity is not only morally cor­rect but also has prac­ti­cal ben­e­fits in im­prov­ing pub­lic safety. Prison­ers sub­jected to soli­tary con­fine­ment have dif­fi­culty reen­ter­ing so­ci­ety and are more likely to re-of­fend.

The re­port out­lined a se­ries of rec­om­men­da­tions that the agency agreed to, in­clud­ing es­tab­lish­ing poli­cies on the use of re­stric­tive hous­ing, track­ing its use, set­ting lim­its and bet­ter doc­u­ment­ing prison­ers’ men­tal-health di­ag­noses. Nor­mally an agree­ment to take such steps would be en­cour­ag­ing. But given that the bureau de­nies prac­tic­ing soli­tary con­fine­ment, any prom­ise to cease the prac­tice has to be mon­i­tored closely. It will be es­sen­tial for the in­spec­tor gen­eral to fol­low up and for Congress to be dili­gent in ex­er­cis­ing over­sight.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.