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What is Solitary Confinement?

Solitary confinement is the isolation of an individual in a small cell for 22-24 hours a day, with minimal human contact or environmental stimulation. This practice, often contentious, raises significant ethical and psychological concerns. It's a world hidden from view, yet its impact on the human psyche is profound. How does this seclusion shape a person's mind and spirit? Let's delve deeper.
Garry Crystal
Garry Crystal

Solitary confinement is a controversial form of punishment used in prison. Prisoners who are placed in solitary will spend up to 23 hours a day in a cell with no human contact except prison staff. It has been called a barbaric form of punishment by its opponents due to its negative impact on the prisoner's mental health.

On the most part, prisoners are not given this type of punishment because of their crimes. They are usually placed in solitary for some act of violence that was committed inside the prison. Prison officials say that it is the most violent and dangerous criminals that are placed there. If a prisoner is put into isolation, it is usually because he or she is a danger to other prisoners. Inmates can also be placed in confinement if they are in danger from other prisoners, in which case, it is known as protective custody.

In solitary confinement, no phone calls or televisions are allowed.
In solitary confinement, no phone calls or televisions are allowed.

The cell used for the confinement can sometimes be around the same size as an average bathroom. In 24 hours, there may be one hour of exercise outside of the cell. There will be no contact with the outside world in any form, although prisoners may receive mail. Prisoners will not usually be allowed to watch television or make telephone calls.

Statistics have shown that, in the United States, there are around 25,000 prisoners serving sentences in solitary confinement. Many prisoners have served out 20-year sentences in this manner. The majority of the prisoners in solitary have been there for over five years.

Prisoners are usually placed in solitary confinement as a result of an act of violence committed inside to the prison.
Prisoners are usually placed in solitary confinement as a result of an act of violence committed inside to the prison.

A worrying report states that many of these dangerous prisoners are led straight from the confinement cell to the prison gates once their sentence is finished, and there is no treatment or counseling for them before they are released back into public life. In Texas in 2005, 1,458 solitary confinement prisoners were released straight from their cell into the general public once their sentence had expired. Many of these prisoners had spent a number of years in solitary and were then simply released. This type of confinement has been shown to bring on certain mental illnesses, such as depression. Officials have stated that to release these prisoners with no therapy beforehand can have detrimental affects and that the danger to the public is substantial.

Many prisoners have served sentences that lasted as long as 20 years in solitary confinement.
Many prisoners have served sentences that lasted as long as 20 years in solitary confinement.

Many states in the US are now implementing some form of anger management and therapy sessions for prisoners. Some have implemented good behavior privileges to prisoners in solitary, and many also have panels of officials who now decide who can be let out of confinement and back into the prison population. The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch are campaigning for an end to long-term solitary confinement sentences.

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Discussion Comments


My son has been in jail. His time was up two days ago, but the clerk of court made an error on his case and put down he was serving consecutive sentences instead of concurrent with his other case, so now we're waiting on his attorney, who has a motion in to fix the mistake.

A new prisoner was put in my son's room and was giving him trouble. My son mentioned it to me and I called the sergeant to please check on this. I was waiting for my son to call me the next day, but he never called, so I called the sergeant back and he told me my son was in confinement. My son is not a trouble maker. All this time I think he has been framed to keep him longer. Forget the C.O. They are the worst and good for nothing.


Solitary confinement is the same as roasting someone on a stick but very slowly and with enough distance that they live but are being burned every second. The state should not torture people.


I spent four months in solitary for made up allegations. I was so traumatized by it, I lied and confessed to a couple misdemeanors to get out. It should only be for completely evil people, like Charles Manson.


My daughter was supposed to come up for parole last month, and she did something she wasn't suppose to do; it was a minor thing that she did. So she got a thirty-day confinement and has to wait four months before she comes back up before parole board.

Then I hear that they can give her another six months because of the write up. What the heck is going on? She should have already been out. I feel like something is just not right. I am a very concerned and worried mother.


I believe SC should only be used for folks like Ridgeway or people who have done heinous crimes. Prisons and even jails are nothing more than a money-making corporation.

It is especially sad to see the kinds of people who fill those prison walls. As was mentioned in a few posts, these are mainly victim-less offenders. But what the heck, the district judge needs new leather interior for his Mercedes, so let's throw another addiction stricken drunk in jail for not paying his/her $2.000 fine on time. This system is so messed up, I do not even have words for it. Shame, shame, shame.


What kind of fool society not only punishes someone for their behavior while incarcerated, but then sees to it that they are made that much worse?

Of course they act out in the company of others they do not know and may be even worse than they are themselves! The best guarantee that same person will do something even worse is to directly release them into society straight from a period of solitary confinement.

Who do prison staff think benefits and why! This only compounds the problem. Wake up, wardens, and anyone else who might give a damn!


Solitary confinement may be okay in some situations. However, not all crimes deserve it and in some cases, it makes people more violent. It is over used.


If our criminal justice system went only after the real criminals, then solitary confinement is the perfect punishment. If a person murders, rapes (including child rape), robs, or victimizes a person in some other way; there is no more suitable punishment than locking them up in a small cell big enough only for a bed, toilet, sink, and desk. That will give prisoners little else to do than contemplate their crime.

Keeping real criminals in a dorm-like set up is dangerous and counter-productive on so many levels. First, prison rape, assault and contraband are big issues when you lock up a bunch of criminals and confine them all in the same room. It's like caging a bunch of dangerous sharks in the same single shark tank. Eventually the sharks will cause trouble among themselves.

Prisons that use solitary confinement less are not only less secure but have a much higher escape risk. When a person commits a crime against another, they become a danger to the public, and thus surrenders nearly all their rights and freedom to their jailers. And since the number one reason for prison is the containment and incapacitation of criminals, dorm-style imprisonment is not the most efficient practice to do this.

With that said, our current criminal justice system is broken in so many ways because we have so many in prison who are there for non-violent drug offenses, prostitution, or some other victimless "crime". It wouldn't make much sense to use solitary confinement on such low risk "offenders". In fact victimless "criminals" probably shouldn't be jailed in the first place. So I and many others don't necessarily support the expansion of solitary confinement until the prison system is reformed so that only real criminals end up in prison (murderers, rapists, robbers, etc.). Then it's not so much of an ethical issue because the solitary confinement is then just used for the real criminals who actually victimized someone. They deserve the maximum punishment so that when they are released they will be deterred enough not to do the crime again.

Some folks might say prison is not just for containment and punishment of the criminal, but also for rehabilitation. While I do agree with this, rehabilitation services can still be offered to those in solitary confinement. In fact, some super max prisons even offer education, either within their individual cells, or in actual classrooms where each prisoner is penned up in individual desk pod cages (Prisoners need to be restrained or confined somewhere at all times when outside their cells).

Now when discussing one of the worst crimes of murder or child rapists, there is no more just punishment for them than life in solitary confinement. Capital punishment even for murderers is still too cruel and unusual a punishment. It's better to lock up the murderer for life in solitary than let them escape their crimes through execution.


There are so many nonviolent drug offenders in prison. They don't deserve to be around murders,rapists, and racists.

They need to be isolated from other prisoners, but not trapped in their minds with little human contact. Daily drug rehabilitation programs, education, and a lot of reading would greatly benefit these inmates.


Solitary confinement would be a dream for me. tell me how to sign up. I hate being around people, whether you are a convict or law abiding. I prefer not to have to do something unethical to do it. I think i may not be human.


If anyone deserves to be in solitary confinement, it's those people who harm and prey on children.


Prison is for the purpose of correction of the person doing wrong, not making them worse! There is nothing in writing in our laws that says anyone who commits a crime surrenders his freedom to any institution.

No prison, nor the imperfect people running the prisons should have any power to mistreat (let alone abuse) an inmate! STDs, gangs, or violence are not good enough reasons to isolate a human without sunlight, fresh air, education and corrective regime (e.g Exercise drills similar to boot camp).

Face it: private prison owners have a money matter at risk. No criminals, no money! They want to create excuses to keep prisoners imprisoned! No matter what happens in lock up, extended sentences should also be illegal! As long as 'guards' are being allowed to bully prisoners, prisoners should also not receive extended time for lack of co-operation, spitting, cussing, fighting etc. It is not a crime to spit, throw feces or act out in isolation! It is isolation from society already.

Officers/Guards are the only example of proper behavior to these criminals. If they are abusing them, it is the guards that are creating a hate within prisoners for the free individuals of society. Either way, 'correctional' facilities are not correcting anything! They are creating monsters while someone else gets paid big money to keep them coming back!


Thank you for the information.

I must point out however that I am taken aback by the poor composition of the language in this piece. It makes me question the scholarship and reliability of the statements made here.

For example, "If a prisoner is placed in solitary confinement it is usually because they are a danger to other prisoners."

'They' needs to be substituted with 'he' or 'she.'

Thanks for your help and this consideration.


have you never woke up in the local jail after a big night on the town drunk? you don't have to be a monster to get in trouble with the police to get in jail nowadays. if you are drunk and they throw you up against the wall and start harassing you for nothing, if you so much as say a cuss word, they will jail you if they are bored.

If it's on a friday with a bank holiday monday you will be in a seven by six cell for five days, with no getting out of that cell.

I was in last week for fighting with my brother drunk, and it doesn't get any easier as that was the twentieth time, nothing serious guys -- that's in a 21 year period, but guys this is what people don't even want done to animals and they're dangerous right.

Don't say until you have tried it yourselves. Thanks for reading.


I know I would rather spend six weeks alone than six hours in with the general prison population of murderers and thugs. So I fail to see how this is barbaric punishment.


Most people are afraid to be alone. However isn't solitary better than being in a room with murderers, sexual offenders or arsonists, if for example you are in for, say, fraud. Surely aloneness is better than being beaten up by a hardcore offender.


Solitary confinement is a worse punishment than death. Politicians who support solitary confinement(and all the abuse that comes attached) should all be subject to a "six week solitary camp" so they can experience the inhumane environment for themselves before they impose it on anyone, yes even a dangerous criminal!

Paying your debt to society and your victim should be about acknowledgement of your wrong doing, labor intensive work to rehabilitate your thinking and behavior! But never, ever should a human being be imprisoned to create a numb, mindless monster that will be an even bigger problems in society once released!

*Abolish solitary confinement!*


I think it would be better if long prison sentences were replaced with shorter term solitary confinement. When a person commits a crime, they surrender their freedom to the institution that will imprison them.

If there is a victim in a crime it only makes sense that the convicted get the toughest possible punishment: near 24/7 confinement with only a jumpsuit to wear.

Solitary confinement is actually a more efficient form of punishment because less time in total solitary confinement adds up to more useful punishment time than prisoners in general public.

Not only this, but if prisoners are not allowed to leave their cells there would be less prison fights, rapes, contraband and the like. Gang activity would decrease dramatically since gang members will not be allowed time out of their cells with fellow gang members.

The prisoner should still be treated humanely but the inmate does not deserve to leave his or her cell. I do think inmates should be allowed all the amenities in their cell like books, tvs, even computers if it can be afforded. And good food too. That way staying confined all the time wouldn't be so bad.

So yeah, solitary confinement is the ultimate punishment, it will very much deter people from doing the crime since no one would want to stay confined in one cell for such a long time.


I feel the prison system in this country has a tremendous amounts of pressures heaped upon it and deals with this unpleasant situation in an efficient manner.

If a person is convicted, that person surrenders his or her freedom. If they don't have the wherewithal to show they are going to correct their bad choices in life, they lose more and more until they wind up in solitary confinement. It's a better course of action than capital punishment. It may be, in its purest form, a fitting punishment for even the worst of crimes.


Solitary confinement should be used for all prisoners who have no history of poor mental health and in a more responsible manner by our justice system. By doing this, it would decrease the amount of people being re-incarcerated and would seriously cut down on prison violence, in prison drug use, and the spread of STDs inside of prison.


I couldn't imagine having to spend one year in by myself, let alone five. In my opinion it's worse than torture, I mean that's like keeping an animal locked up in a small room. We humans are still animals as we sometime seem to forget. I just don't think it's right. I tried thinking about staying in a cell for 20 years with no human contact and it's a pretty dark reality. I think we should better means of confining prisoners instead of driving them mad.


Solitary confinement is over used. It has become cruel and unusual punishment and should be much more carefully regulated.

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    • In solitary confinement, no phone calls or televisions are allowed.
      By: Tracy King
      In solitary confinement, no phone calls or televisions are allowed.
    • Prisoners are usually placed in solitary confinement as a result of an act of violence committed inside to the prison.
      By: BortN66
      Prisoners are usually placed in solitary confinement as a result of an act of violence committed inside to the prison.
    • Many prisoners have served sentences that lasted as long as 20 years in solitary confinement.
      By: Tracy King
      Many prisoners have served sentences that lasted as long as 20 years in solitary confinement.
    • San Quentin State Prison in California.
      By: Eric BVD
      San Quentin State Prison in California.
    • Solitary confinement often has negative effects on prisoners' mental health.
      By: altanaka
      Solitary confinement often has negative effects on prisoners' mental health.
    • There are approximately 25,000 U.S. prisoners serving sentences in solitary confinement.
      By: Rufoto
      There are approximately 25,000 U.S. prisoners serving sentences in solitary confinement.