Drastic Reform Urged for Solitary Confinement

The mental health effects associated with prolonged solitary confinement demand close consideration and should influence any future policy on use of the practice in U.S. prisons.

Anthony Graves, an exonerated former death-row inmate, spent the majority of his 18 years at a Texas prison in solitary confinement.

“I lived under the rules of a system that is literally driving men out of their minds,” said Graves in describing the inhumane conditions of serving time in a small cell without access to human interaction or proper medical care. “No one can begin to imagine the psychological effects isolation has on another human being.”

According to recent estimates from the Web-based advocacy project Solitary Watch, approximately 82,000 inmates are currently segregated in federal and state prison systems in the United States. And a 2010 study published by the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (AAPL) concluded that segregation over prolonged periods of time has the capacity to induce harmful psychological effects such as anxiety, anger, cognitive disturbance, perceptual distortion, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and psychosis.

The AAPL study also estimated that between 8 percent and 19 percent of current U.S. prisoners suffer from psychiatric disorders, with an additional 15 percent to 20 percent of prisoners requiring some form of psychiatric intervention during incarceration. These individuals, according to AAPL’s findings, often require costly psychiatric hospitalization or crisis-intervention services, and face a heightened risk of suicide.

by Jonathan Wolfe, Psychiatric News

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