Solitary Confinement Paper

Solitary Confinement Paper

This article will discuss the history solitary confinement, the reasons why solitary confinement is used, the side effects of solitary confinement, and some of the ethical frameworks that can be tied in with solitary confinement. The question that needs to be answered is: Is placing an individual in solitary confinement ethical? This paper will focus on the utilitarian, deontological, and peacemaking frameworks. Each will be described and used to determine whether solitary confinement is ethical or not from that point of view.

History of Solitary Confinement
Solitary confinement was not very popular in the United States until 1829 when the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia opened. This prison had eight-by-twelve feet cells where prisoners were kept for 23 hours of the 24 hour day. The one hour of free time was used to exercise inside of another small box still with no physical or social contact with inmates or outside world. The prisoners were fed through a small slot in the door, there was not much light only from a small window at the top of the cell, and the prisoners were also hooded when taken to and from the cells. Charles Dickens actually visited the Eastern State Penitentiary and he declared it "cruel and wrong, immeasurably worse than any torture of the body” (Drury, 2003). The idea behind this prison was to rehabilitate the individual through isolation. Isolation was supposed to give the prisoner time to reflect on his crime and get closer to God; become penitent (Arrigo & Bullock 2008). The second prison that used solitary confinement as a form of punishment was the Auburn Prison of New York it was not considered to be as harsh as Eastern State Prison but it was still brutal. Prisoners could only work with each other in silence. Prison officials believed that if the prisoners learned the value of hard work, ate moderate meals, had silent evenings, and restful nights in individual cells that would produce a man who was cured of all vices and excesses (Arrigo & Bullock 2008). Finally, Europe supported the Pennsylvania and Auburn Prison models. Soon European prisons began using the models and putting prisoners in isolation. The Eastern State Prison, the Auburn State Prison, and the European Prisons all shared common goals and that was to rehabilitate through isolation, hard work, reflection, discipline and also to rid the prisoner of all outside temptations.

Reasons for Using Solitary Confinement
There are several reasons for using solitary confinement (SC). During the early 1800’s when Eastern State Prison and the Auburn State Prison was built the reasons to use solitary confinement was to rehabilitate through isolation. It was supposed to create this new man through religion and discipline. It may also be used on prisoners who may need close supervision or protection from the general prison population. Another reason for using SC is to gain control over the offender and make them compliant. If the system can break that individual and strip them of all their “luxuries” then it will be easier to gain control over that individual. Some prisoners are placed in SC for what a judge perceives them to be. If the judge considers that prisoner dangerous, a threat, or a member of a troublesome group then that

Characteristics of SC Prisoners
According to Motiuk, L. L., and Blanchette, K. (2001) the prisoners are already segregated before they entered actual SC; meaning the prisoners had characteristics that set them apart from the non-segregated prisoners. One characteristic was the prisoner had been a part of the criminal system for quite some time, from youth to an adult. Many have been in segregation before due to disobeying the rules. The prisoners in SC usually are unemployed at the time of incarceration and do not possess any trade or professional skills that would allow them to keep a stable job. As far as background characteristics many were single and had negative relationships with siblings and others during their childhood. Many displayed social isolation while growing up which made that individual more susceptible to criminal activity and criminal acquaintances. The social isolation is connected with drug and alcohol abuse which is widely prevalent in the segregated population upon entry. Now, aside from having financial difficulties those individuals also have cognitive problems which include difficulty solving interpersonal issues, disregard for others, and cannot make decisions, impulsive, manipulative and unaware of the consequences of their actions. Also the segregated population is most likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness upon arrival to the prison. Finally, segregated offenders had more negative feelings toward authority figures and rehabilitation. The prisoners are non-conformists, lack direction, and respect for personal relationships and belongings (Motiuk & Blanchette 2001). One can imagine what the outcomes can be when one puts an individual with these characteristics in SC.

Effects of Solitary Confinement
The effects from solitary confinement can be very damaging to an offender. Offenders have developed mental disorders, personality disorders, and social disorders. Many of these disorders depend on the time spent in solitary confinement. The longer the offender is on solitary confinement the worse the effects can be. The offenders often become dependent on the strict structure and lose the ability to control their behavior, especially when released into the community or even back to general prison population. Haney (2003) stated that an offender will begin to act out as a way of expressing themselves or some retreat to fantasy. The offender may experience feelings of frustration, anger, and rage. Haney also noted that “rage is a reaction against, not a justification for, their oppressive confinement” (Haney, 1993, p.5.). The offender may also suffer from hallucinations, paranoia, different sleep patterns and appetite, anxiety, suicidal behavior, and self-mutilation (Haney, 2003). Haney did a case study at Pelican Bay in California with a random sample of 100 offenders and he conducted face-to-face interviews. Table 3 shows a summary comparison of two studies of nonincarcerated normal populations, Brodsky and Scogin’s protective custody prisoners, and the supermax sample from Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) (Haney,2003). This graph is useful with this information because it displays that psychological symptoms are prevalent in SC and it has negative effects on offenders.

According to Lorna Rhodes, an anthropologist who wrote a book called, Total Confinement, solitary confinement does not just negatively affect the offenders, but it also has a negative effect on the correctional staff. The environment can become stressful when an offender throws feces or urine on you or surprisingly attacks you (Arrigo & Bullock 2008). As stated previously, offenders become frustrated, full of anger, and do not have much or any self- control so when an offender decided to act out they usually do not think about the consequences of their actions; they just act.

Utilitarian Viewpoint
Jeremy Bentham and John Mill created the most famous version of utilitarianism called hedonistic utilitarianism. Bentham and Mill’s notes that happiness is identified by pleasure. The utilitarian approach states that an action that is morally correct is the one that produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people ( Braswell, McCarthy, & McCarthy). Bentham and Mill’s may argue from a utilitarian point of view that solitary confinement can be seen as ethical or unethical. The ethical argument is that the offenders that are placed in SC are usually brought there for breaking prison rules or some other infraction such as injuring a staff member or other offenders. If the prison officials have to place an individual in SC, then that will create happiness for the prison officials and individuals who have been harmed by the offender. It will create the greatest good for the greatest number of people in that being staff and the general prison population. A correctional officer would be happy knowing that an offender who assaulted them last week and one of their co-workers three weeks ago are put in a place where it is difficult for that offender to act out again without major consequences, in SC. An offender in the general prison population may gain happiness knowing that the offender who shanked him last month is now serving time in a SC unit.

On the other hand a utilitarian may view solitary confinement as unethical. Bentham and Mill’s may view the “greatest good for the greatest number of people” as the actual population outside of the prison. Majority of the prison population will be released back into general population and if prison officials just places that individual in SC confinement for their five year prison sentence without any form of rehabilitation or human and social interaction it can be dangerous. In SC research has shown that offenders get worse and suffer from personality disorders, social disorders, and psychological disorders. As Haney stated many offenders at Pelican Bay in SC experienced anxiety, loss of appetite, nightmares, paranoia, depression, and loss of control so one can imagine sending an individual with symptoms like this back into general population (Haney, C 2003). When prisons do things like that, it is unethical to society as a whole. The only individuals who may have gained any happiness is the correctional officers or other prison officials who did not have to deal with the actual issue, or felt that they dealt with the issue in the best manner possible.

Deontology Viewpoint
Deontology means the study of duty it was developed by Immanuel Kant. This ethical framework states that humans sometimes have the duty to perform certain actions, regardless of the consequences. Kant holds that only actions that are done for the sake of duty have moral worth. He uses categorical imperatives which is a command that tells us what we ought to do and what we should do (Braswell et al., 2011). Kant would argue that solitary confinement is unethical. One reason is fairness and equality is not present in SC. The offenders have the same size cell, the same meals, and uniforms, but they are not all treated the same. An example is in the Colorado State Penitentiary offenders are on different levels of the quality of life system; there are 6 levels and offenders have to earn their privileges back such as television, phone calls, and group activities with the general population (Yost, P 2010). An offender can be on level three and be moved all the way back to level one from something as small as not returning food trays. The prison officials would not want to be locked in a small cell for 23 hours of the day being told when to shower, exercise, and eat so many are not treating the offenders as they would want to be treated. Another reason Kant may consider SC unethical is many of the offenders are treated as an object or thing not as a human being. In the Colorado State Penitentiary offenders are not viewed as individuals who should get respect, dignity, or reverence, but rather viewed as means to one’s own needs. The offenders are viewed as individuals who can’t follow the rules in general prison population so they have to earn every privilege back through isolation and the quality of life system.

One could argue that it is the duty of the prison officials to keep their staff and offenders safe from offenders who can’t follow the rules. It would be their duty to keep their prison in order even if that means putting an individual in SC for the rest of their prison sentence. As stated previously humans sometimes have the duty to perform certain actions, regardless of the consequences (Braswell et al., 2011).

Peacemaking Viewpoint
Peacemaking is a rather new ethical framework. It focuses on three themes: connectedness, care, and mindfulness. Connectedness means that everyone and everything is connected in some way and once everyone accepts this idea it will become clear that the actions one takes will have an effect or consequence. According to Nel Noddings, caring is the feminine approach to ethics. She notes that moral perspective is a natural perspective not a view of reasoning and justification. Mindfulness allows one to see inside their inner self and gain a sense of awareness (Braswell et al., 2011). A peacemaking theorist would think solitary confinement was completely unethical. One there is no connectedness because every offender is kept in a single cell in total isolation. The research that has been done states that individuals become socially withdrawn, violent, paranoid, and depressed (Eiseman, 2009). When an offender losses the “privilege” of having social contact of any kind and loss of regular activities one may begin to lose their sense of self and disconnect from the idea of being humanized ever again (Haney, 2003). Humans are socially constructed creatures so taking that away from an individual may cause them to not only lose who they are, but also not know how they are connected to the larger world. If an individual does not know who they are or how they are connected to their environment then creating a sense of connectedness, caring, and mindfulness will most likely not develop.

Overall, solitary confinement clearly has negative effects on prisoners. SC is something that has been a part of the prison systems for centuries on and off and it does not seem to be disappearing anytime soon. Solitary confinement is ethical in some individuals eye’s but in many it is not very popular. A utilitarian and deontologists can view SC as ethical or unethical. A peacemaker does not think it is ethical at all. So the question is, is solitary confinement ethical? It depends on which ethical framework an individual agrees with; utilitarian, deontology, or peacemaking.

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Eisenman, S. F. (2009). The resistable rise and predictable fall of the U.S. supermax. Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine, 61(6), 31-45

Haney, C(1993). “Infamous punishment”: The psychological consequences of isolation. National Prison Project Journal, 8(2) 3-7, 21.

Haney, C. (2003). Mental health issues in long-term solitary ad “supermax” confinement. Crime & Delinquency, 49(2), 124-156.

Motiuk, L. L., & Blanchette, K. (2001). Characteristics of administratively segregated offenders in federal corrections. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 43(1), 131-144.