Solitary Confinement: The Pros and Cons

October 26, 2017

Solitary confinement reaches a new depth within imprisonment. While the conditions vary from state to state, incarcerated persons are generally kept in small quarters behind a solid steel door for 23 hours  or more per day with little to no contact with other human beings. Food gets delivered through a slot in the door, and aside from a bed, toilet, and sink, rooms are not equipped with much else.

In the 20th century, a stay in solitary confinement typically lasted only a few days and could extend to weeks in the more extreme cases. However, today’s incarcerated persons can spend years there; some inmates have even spent decades in solitary.

The systematic policies of solitary confinement have been a subject of controversy for years – particularly when it comes to minors being subject to such confinement – and some prisons are beginning to end long-term detainment in solitary. That being said, as with any controversial topic, solitary confinement certainly has supporters as well. For this reason, we have outlined the main arguments people make from both the pro and con sides of solitary confinement.


Pros of Solitary Confinement:


It helps ensure prison safety.

From its establishment, the purpose of solitary confinement in prisons is to restrict incarcerated persons from being a threat to others. If a particular individual is posing a danger to other inmates or staff, solitary confinement serves as a safety measure for the rest of the prison population.

It gives prison guards another method to discipline inmates.

Solitary confinement is an effective means for prison guards to control negative behavior. Punishment methods allow guards to maintain a sense of order within the prison. Solitary confinement is not meant to be viewed positively by incarcerated persons, and it deters them from acting in a way that warrants it.

It can reform an inmate’s character.

An additional goal of solitary confinement is to give incarcerated persons rehabilitation or reform their character. It is argued that a convicted individual left alone with their thoughts can tap into their conscience, engage in inner reflection, and understand the weight of his or her crime.


Cons of Solitary Confinement:


It can deteriorate prisoner mental health.

People in solitary confinement become especially vulnerable to the risk of mental health disorders, namely schizophrenia. Individuals in isolation are prone to experience delusions and hallucinations. Paranoia, claustrophobia, anxiety, and other symptoms of mental disorders can also arise because the solitude makes individuals lose their grip on reality. For this reason, in a need to take control of their surroundings, many incarcerated persons often engage in self-destructive behavior.

It can damage physical health.

When ordered into solitary confinement, incarcerated persons do not have the freedom to take walks on the prison grounds or go outside at all. Because of this, they can become Vitamin D deficient, making them susceptible to a wide range of illnesses, and they severely lack physical activity. Additionally, solitary confinement can hinder immediate medical attention when needed, allowing illnesses to progress further into serious conditions.

It violates basic human rights.

It is important to remember that prisoners are human beings, too. For this reason, people argue that solitary confinement, especially on a long-term basis, fits the definition of torture, in accordance with various international human rights treaties. Long-term confinement is a form of punishment shown to cause both mental and physical damage to incarcerated persons. Moreover, inflicting severe pain or suffering – be it mental or physical – in order to intimidate or punish constitutes torture, which is a distinct violation of human rights.

It is not always effective.

Although solitary confinement is designed to reform and rehabilitate an incarcerated persons, it does not always work successfully. Instead of reflecting on their wrongdoing, incarcerated persons often focus on the solitude itself or the harshness of the punishment.