Review the Humaneness of Solitary Confinement

Target: Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons

Goal: Conduct an evidence-based inquiry into the ethics of the practice of solitary confinement

Solitary confinement, the practice of keeping prisoners alone for years at a time, could have serious psychological implications. If properly examined, the results may show that the effects are so severe that solitary confinement amounts to psychological torture. And yet the U.S. prison system continues to keep thousands of inmates in solitary for long periods of time.

In prisons across America, solitary confinement is often used as a punishment for bad behavior in prison, such as being involved in a fight. The punishment is intended to “modify behavior” and pacify the prisoners. But evidence suggests that prolonged periods spent in solitary confinement actually makes inmates even more violent. The psychological effects include paranoia and violent and antisocial behavior. If solitary confinement is intended to positively modify prisoners’ behavior and prepare to return to the normal prison population or everyday life outside, then it is failing.

To make matters worse, a prisoner in solitary confinement can often end up staying isolated for exorbitant periods of time. Burdensome and difficult-to-follow rules are usually punishable by more time in solitary. And the more time spent alone, the more antisocial an inmate is likely to become. The combination can ruin lives.

Solitary confinement is not used in most of the world’s prison systems, since it is usually seen as an ineffective punishment. But the United States continues to employ it widely. The United States should examine both the utility and morality of using long-term solitary confinement on prisoners.

There has never been a challenge as to whether solitary confinement constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” which is forbidden in the US Constitution. Sign the petition below to ask for a review of the humaneness of the practice of long-term solitary confinement.


Dear Charles E. Samuels, Jr.,

Solitary confinement is used in America extensively as a method of punishing misconduct in prison. But evidence is beginning to mount that solitary confinement is a flawed method to correct prisoners’ behavior.

The psychological effects can include paranoia and violent behavior—exactly the kind of behavior solitary confinement is meant to prevent. If you agree that the US prison system should be focused on making the United States a country with less crime, then it makes practical sense to investigate the effects of solitary confinement on inmates.

Please consider the possibility that solitary confinement is a functionally and ethically flawed practice and order an independent review into the subject.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: dotpitch via Flickr

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One Comment

  1. J Davidson says:

    Long term solitary does nothing more than encourage recidivism. There is nothing to be gained from it, and the result of its cruelty makes rehabilitation almost impossible.

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