Click here to read about Utah’s Supermax Torture

Click here for Human Rights Watch report

One psychiatrist at a California state prison said bluntly:  “It’s a standard psychiatric concept, if you put people in isolation, they will go insane.”  This is in no small part because people are social by nature and need social interaction to maintain a healthy state.

A U.S. Military study of almost 150 naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam, many who were tortured physically with beatings, and having bones broken, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.

In one of the most comprehensive studies on Solitary Confinement, researchers analyzed data from 244,699 incarcerated in the NYC jail system from January 1, 2010 through January 31, 2013.  This wide ranging study found that while only 7.3% of the jail admissions included solitary confinement, 53.3% of acts of self-harm and 45% of acts of potentially fatal self-harm occurred within this group.  These findings reflect the desperation of people condemned to solitary confinement – they are driven to desperate acts in an effort to escape the painful environment in which they have been placed.

EEG studies of the brain show that without substantial social interaction, the human brain becomes impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.

Researchers have found that “solitary confinement fundamentally alters the brain.”

A U.S. District Court (click here) in Texas proclaimed that in 1975 solitary confinement units “are virtual incubators of psychoses – seeding illness in otherwise healthy inmates and exacerbating illness in those already suffering from mental infirmities.”

Anthony Graves, who spent many years in solitary confinement on death row for a murder he did not commit, told about the effects of solitary on other prisoners he had witnessed during his incarceration:  “I would watch guys come to prison totally sane and in three years they don’t live in the real world any more.”  “No one can begin to imagine the psychological effects isolation has on another human being.  Solitary Confinement does one thing: It breaks a man’s will to live.”

The negative impact of isolation on prisoners’ mental health is well established.  A large body of research has Consistently demonstrated (click here) that prisoners subjected to isolation suffer the same symptoms caused by (click here) the same symptoms caused by Physical Torture.

What solitary confinement does to your mind.

The research shows that people subjected to solitary confinement exhibit a variety of negative psychological and physiological problems including:

  • Cognitive distortions
  • Perceptual distortions
  • Hallucinations
  • Hypersensitivity to external stimuli
  • Increased anxiety, panic attacks, and nervousness
  • Fears of persecution
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Severe and chronic depression
  • Appetite loss and weight loss
  • Heart palpitations
  • Withdrawal
  • Blunting of affect, apathy, and emotions
  • Talking to oneself
  • Loss of emotional control
  • Headaches
  • Problems sleeping
  • Confused thought processes
  • Nightmares
  • Dizziness
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Self-mutilation
  • Lower levels of brain function, including a decline in EEG activity after only seven days in solitary confinement

In addition to increased psychiatric symptoms generally, suicide rates are much higher for prisoners in solitary confinement.  It’s not unusual for prisoners in solitary confinement to compulsively cut their flesh, repeatedly smash their heads against walls, swallow razors and other harmful objects, or attempt to hang themselves.  Approximately 50 percent of all prison suicides take place in isolation cells.  In California in 2004, for example, 73 percent of all suicides were in isolation cells.

Damon Thibodeux, who spent 15 years on death row in Louisiana’s Angola Prison before being exonerated, testified before the U.S. Senate about mental suffering of life in solitary and the hopelessness that led him to consider suicide.  Here is what Damon had to say…

solitary quote