Inmates kept in prolonged isolation face detrimental health effects proving that solitary confinement is not an appropriate punishment. Due to the ongoing failures of solitary confinement, the heavy use of this punishment is under reevaluation in North Carolina.
“Let’s not do what we have been doing where there are failures. Let’s do something different or new” said David Guice, North Carolina state prison Commissioner, who has since retired.In response to the criticism of solitary confinement, the state is taking steps towards improvement although there is still room to grow.
In the spring of 2015, North Carolina was chosen to participate in a two-year study sponsored by the Vera Institute of Justice in New York to reduce the use of solitary confinement, which at the time was reported to be holding 8 percent of the prison population.
Solitary confinement is used to isolate inmates from the regular prison population for various reasons, most likely as an act of discipline. When in solitary, inmates spend 23 to 24 hours a day in a windowless cell without access to human contact or fresh air.
According to Taylor Knopf, a mental health reporter at North Carolina Health News, inmates, on average, shower three times a week for 10 minutes. They are then given a 60-minute recreation period five times a week that they are allowed to spend in an outdoor cell. Otherwise, inmates are isolated in a small cell for the majority of the day.
Perhaps worse, some teens are held in solitary confinement in North Carolina. According to Alexander, some 16- and 17-year-olds in Charlotte are held in solitary while awaiting trial. These teens are severely mistreated before even being convicted.
As of December 2016, dozens of youth inCharlotte were still thrown into solitary confinement. This practice, according to experts and advocates, is unacceptable due to the lasting psychological consequences it causes. Teens, in particular, should not be punished like adults from such a young age.
There is no doubt why many consider solitary confinement torture, especially psychiatrists.
“North Carolina is trying to limit its use of solitary, particularly for people with mental illness. But the state still has a long way to go” said Ames Alexander, an investigative reporter for the Charlotte Observer.
According to the North Carolina Health News, during the fiscal year 2018-19, budgeted funds for mental health services will be cut by $90 million. With low mental health funds and services in the state, mentally ill people are often thrown into jails and prisons and kept in isolation. Those with mental illnesses are most likely to be placed in solitary confinement, which has been proven to only further harm their mental health.
Solitary confinement leads to psychological issues, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, anger and paranoia. It also enhances the chances that an inmate will commit self-harm or suicide. Overall, according to Alexander, isolation causes inmates to become completely dysfunctional human beings.
According to a report written by Alexander, one North Carolina inmate, Jason Swain, suffered from bipolar depression when he was locked up in solitary confinement. He spent 13 years in a concrete prison cell smaller than a parking space. Perhaps not surprisingly, his mental state only worsened, and he developed a disturbing habit of swallowing razor blades.
Swain faced devastating consequences as he routinely continued to consume blades and rip open his stiches. He merely serves as one example of thousands of inmates who have faced the tortuous consequences of living in solitary.
Overall, the practice of solitary confinement is an outdated approach to punishment, according to national experts. There are other ways to punish inmates, especially teens, and eliminate the use of solitary confinement.
North Carolina is still working to reduce the use of solitary confinement across the state but the results from the Vera report indicate that progress has been made. According to the report, many policy changes were made most notably, the prohibition of solitary for juveniles. In July 2017, a new policy was established to limit the time prisoners spend in solitary confinement to a maximum of 30 days.
In the years to come, the state hopes to implement a more incentive-based system and continue to develop Therapeutic and Rehabilitative Diversion Units to provide inmates with the assistance and help they need.