So You Think You Could Handle Solitary Confinement? Think Again

Solitary confinement, as practiced in U.S. correctional facilities, is where a prisoner is held in a concrete and steel cell alone for 22-24 hours a day, seven days a week.

According to the above video, the free 1-2 hours that a prisoner may get is not really that free. Perhaps it’s spent in a larger cell, a cage, or concrete yard.

The cell that they’re in for the rest of the time is roughly 7 by 12 feet (give or take variations depending on the prison). Either way, it’s a bit like the size of a bathroom. See the image below from Amnesty International (AI) to give you a better idea:


Now, imagine being stuck in such claustrophobic and lonely conditions for a month, or a year, or a decade. Enough to turn anyone off a life of crime. I guess that’s part of the purpose.

“Prison authorities claim the system is only used to control the most violent inmates,” says AI. “In reality, minor infractions, such as not obeying orders from a prison guard or the suspicion of gang affiliation, even when there’s very little evidence available, can land a prisoner in there.”

Is it a rare thing to be sent to solitary?

Well, not really. According to AI, there are around 80,000 people being held in solitary across the U.S. as we speak.

Admittedly, the cartoonish aspects of the above video can’t relay the nightmarish aspects of solitary. For that, see this uncomfortable 2:55 minute clip from PBS’s Frontline:

It wouldn’t take a genius to realize that being cooped up in solitary with zero human interaction would bring on or exasperate mental illness. Combine that with a lack of fresh air, sunlight, and proper nutrition, and it’s a recipe for mental ruin.

Some prisoners also experience severe weight loss. Others develop anxiety, depression, insomnia, hypertension, extreme paranoia, perceptual distortions, and psychosis.

“The harsh conditions are psychologically devastating. To understand the brutal consequences of isolation, you need to look no further than the statistics: half of all successful suicides in U.S. prisons occur in solitary cells,” says AI.

I guess you could also call them concrete tombs.

For a further insight into the solitary confinement in the U.S., see this report filmed inside a New Mexico prison below:

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