Dear Sir or Madam:
I’m writing today to protest the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. prisons and jails. An overwhelming amount of research has shown that humans are social creatures, and that depriving them of meaningful social contact by isolating them in cells by themselves for the majority of everyday is torture. America’s prisoners were not sentenced to torture. Yet, according to the ACLU, over 80,000 people, men, women and children, are being held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails. Most of these people are non-violent; most have been held in isolation for prolonged periods of time; and some have never even been convicted of any crime.
There are many ways to destroy a person, but one of the simplest and most devastating is through prolonged solitary confinement. Deprived of meaningful human interaction, otherwise healthy prisoners become unhinged. A large number of organizations recognize that prolonged solitary confinement is torture, including the United Nations, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, the American Bar Association, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and it has recently been denounced by the three U.S. Supreme Court Justices and the President of the United States.
Even more harmful to the ideas of justice is holding someone in isolation prior to trial. This has the very powerful effect of forcing innocent people into taking a plea of guilty, as they will do anything to stop the torture. This is a practice that is occurring more frequently in jails, while prosecutors turn a blind eye.
Decades of research into psychology of inmates held in isolation have found that they suffer significant trauma, including mental illness and brain damage. Even short-term isolation can cause a host of pathologies including panic attacks, anxiety, loss of control, paranoia, hallucinations, depression, insomnia, cognitive dysfunction, and self-mutilation. The longer the confinement the more damaged the person and the longer they take to recover – if at all.
Social interaction is neither a right nor a privilege – it is a fundamental human need. Some people’s view that solitary confinement is an acceptable punishment runs counter to almost all international agreements on human rights. It violates the Geneva Conventions and International humanitarian law. If another country were torturing Americans, the outcry would be deafening. So how can we accept our own government torturing our own citizens. It’s time to stop the torture; it’s time to put an end to solitary confinement.