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February 21, 2013

George Will makes strong (conservative?) case against solitary confinement

George Will has this notable new Washington Post op-ed headlined "When solitude is torture." Here are excerpts:

“Zero Dark Thirty,” a nominee for Sunday’s Oscar for Best Picture, reignited debate about whether the waterboarding of terrorism suspects was torture. This practice, which ended in 2003, was used on only three suspects. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of American prison inmates are kept in protracted solitary confinement that arguably constitutes torture and probably violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Noting that half of all prison suicides are committed by prisoners held in isolation, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has prompted an independent assessment of solitary confinement in federal prisons. State prisons are equally vulnerable to Eighth Amendment challenges concerning whether inmates are subjected to “substantial risk of serious harm.”

America, with 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of its prisoners. Mass incarceration, which means a perpetual crisis of prisoners re-entering society, has generated understanding of solitary confinement’s consequences when used as a long-term condition for an estimated 25,000 inmates in federal and state “supermax” prisons — and perhaps 80,000 others in isolation sections within regular prisons. Clearly, solitary confinement involves much more than the isolation of incorrigibly violent individuals for the protection of other inmates or prison personnel.

Federal law on torture prohibits conduct “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” And “severe” physical pain is not limited to “excruciating or agonizing” pain, or pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death.” The severe mental suffering from prolonged solitary confinement puts the confined at risk of brain impairment.

Supermax prisons isolate inmates from social contact. Often prisoners are in their cells, sometimes smaller than 8 by 12 feet, 23 hours a day, released only for a shower or exercise in a small fenced-in outdoor space. Isolation changes the way the brain works, often making individuals more impulsive, less able to control themselves. The mental pain of solitary confinement is crippling: Brain studies reveal durable impairments and abnormalities in individuals denied social interaction. Plainly put, prisoners often lose their minds....

Mass incarceration is expensive (California spends almost twice as much on prisons as on universities) and solitary confinement costs, on average, three times as much per inmate as in normal prisons. And remember: Most persons now in solitary confinement will someday be back on America’s streets, some of them rendered psychotic by what are called correctional institutions.

February 21, 2013 at 11:23 AM | Permalink

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Comments

It's undoubtedly true that if you omit any mention whatever of the reasons some inmates need to be held in solitary, your readers will conclude that holding inmates in solitary is a really bad idea.

Is that supposed to pass as honest argument?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 21, 2013 11:52:43 AM

I'm sure that prison generally inflicts "severe mental suffering" that alters brain function. That test seems problematic.

The real issue with solitary is what should be used in its place. Are the courts ready to get on board with non-therapeutic use of psychiatric drugs to control behavior? Are we going to go back to beatings?

I'm all ears for proposals that will effectively control inmate conduct, ensure the safety of staff, and inflict minimal harm on inmates.

Posted by: Steve Erickson | Feb 21, 2013 12:09:09 PM

The op-ed notes:

"Mass incarceration, which means a perpetual crisis of prisoners re-entering society, has generated understanding of solitary confinement’s consequences when used as a long-term condition for an estimated 25,000 inmates in federal and state “supermax” prisons — and perhaps 80,000 others in isolation sections within regular prisons. Clearly, solitary confinement involves much more than the isolation of incorrigibly violent individuals for the protection of other inmates or prison personnel."

"Clearly" there is some smaller subset where the usage is much more defensible though even there the negative consequences cited would factor into the analysis.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 21, 2013 2:15:38 PM

I'm all for doing away with solitary, but that's only because I believe that a felony conviction should by default draw a death sentence that it is then up to the offender to convince the court is not appropriate on a case by case basis.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 21, 2013 2:39:15 PM

In Texas we have hundreds of people every year who finish their full sentence day for day in solitary and are released directly to the street with $100 in their pockets. How well do you think those folks will do upon reentry?

Solitary is overused. You can always find an individual case where it's justified, but on the scale it's employed today? No.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Feb 21, 2013 8:35:47 PM

"Plainly put, prisoners often lose their minds.... "

George Will is just lying. You do not get to supermax without earning your way. Plainly put, the prisoners are nuts to begin with. First, these vicious predators have the protection of the vile feminist lawyer seeking the destruction of all forms of authority, save its own. They have totally undermined prison authority to maintain discipline. Guards cannot even verbally criticize vicious predators, or they lose their jobs. These vicious predators cannot be forced into treatment, thanks to the vile feminist lawyer traitor. They cannot control themselves, again, thanks to the vile feminist lawyer traitor. So they need to be in a cage.

George Will is certainly part of the rent seeking Washington DC culture. I lived there. I thought I was at the center of the universe. It is a sicko, gay oriented, hyper-feminist, PC, Ivy indoctrinated, lawyer gotcha culture of bloodsucking off the taxpayer worker. That entire Washington elite set has no limit to its arrogance, and self dealing. It needs to be eradicated for treason to the nation. It adds no value, does nothing well, save just suck the blood of the taxpayer, like a leech. The right, the left, no difference when it comes to the growth of government, and exploding the Federal Register of regulations. Nothing George Will says has the slightest credibility.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 22, 2013 4:05:56 AM

The boohooing for vicious, ultra-violent predators on display here is unseemly. Not a single tear for their victims inside and outside the prison. Why? Because the left government make work blood sucking government worker owes its job to the criminal. Victims generate nothing for the left and may rot. I invite all left wing vicious predator boohooers to serve a shift as a prison guard. Show us how hugs are better to manage ultra-vicious organized gang bangers.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 22, 2013 7:06:07 AM

Grits: Volunteer to serve a shift as a prison guard. Develop a taste for being splattered with all possible body fluids and feces. Then show us how hugging and loving the organized gang banger is better than solitary confinement. I know you have a bad temper. You will be cited, and put on trial by the vile feminist lawyer traitor in a disciplinary hearing after you lose control and just wail on the feces flinging monkey in your care. That Ivy indoctrinated fop, George Will, has the same invitation. Wear the bow tie, George.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 22, 2013 7:18:01 AM

Steve Erickson hit the nail on the head.

Everyone is a critic but no one has a reasonable alternative for an individual inmate who refuses comply with prison rules (whether it is violent noncompliance or not).

I have seen inmates in solitary for smoking on the housing unit, something 8LiesBeforeBreakfast would say is not "justified." Unfortunately, it is not that simple. What if it is the 15th such infraction in a month? What if leaving him on the unit would result in other inmates suing over the second-hand smoke? (I have seen it).

Finally, this is just another slip of the veil. According to the DP prohibitionists, we cannot execute murderers. Now, even keeping them in solitary is not a viable option to them.

Stop admiring the problem. If you have an answer, let us know. If not, a little humility may be in order.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Feb 22, 2013 10:26:20 AM

SC, you're still a nutjob.

The state of Mississippi over the last decade instituted policies to reduce use of solitary, and the number of people in isolation declined from 1,000 to around 150. But I guess the folks running prisons in the Magnolia state are all agents of a "sicko, gay oriented, hyper-feminist, PC, Ivy indoctrinated, lawyer gotcha culture of bloodsucking off the taxpayer worker." Right?

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Feb 22, 2013 10:27:09 AM

One more point.

An OVERWHELMING majority of nonviolent solitary cases are short-term. You may be able to make the case that 10 years in solitary is "torture." 10 days to a month is not. Lumping them together is a disservice to the truth.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Feb 22, 2013 10:30:43 AM

TarlsQtr1 --

Please stop posting facts. That is really annoying. Just get in step and quit being a pain.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 22, 2013 5:45:48 PM

Sorry, Bill. I am much more comfortable as a racist barbarian. :-)

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Feb 22, 2013 8:30:56 PM

Grits: Seriously, volunteer to work in a prison. And show us how to handle the diarrhea flinging monkey in your care. Remember, verbal criticism will be considered to be emotional abuse by the feminist lawyer, and you will be punished for it. As to any physical measure, you will be the one that is arrested for physical abuse of a prisoner.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 23, 2013 5:00:44 AM

SC stated: "Grits: Seriously, volunteer to work in a prison.'

LOL Like that will ever happen. High-minded liberals like him try to get criminals out of prison, as long as the criminals stay out of their nice neighborhoods. They never put themselves in danger from their own policies.

They talk like MLK and live like the KKK.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Feb 24, 2013 11:52:34 AM

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