The practice of solitary confinement has long been a source of controversy within the criminal justice system. Often perceived as a measure for managing “the worst of the worst”, the reality is that it is frequently used for minor infractions and, alarmingly, as a form of retaliation by corrections officers. A growing body of research highlights its counterproductive nature, making correctional facilities less safe in the long run. As a society, we must shift our focus towards exploring effective alternatives to solitary confinement.
These alternatives are not only essential for promoting rehabilitation and ensuring safety but also for addressing the unique needs of vulnerable populations, including those struggling with mental illness, medical conditions, retaliation, pregnancy, transgender identity, youth in adult prisons, and individuals on suicide watch.
- Mental Health Services Over Torture
It is distressing to note that individuals with mental illness are often placed in solitary confinement. Instead of isolation and punishment, these incarcerated people need comprehensive mental health services, including counseling, therapy, and psychiatric care. Treating mental health conditions can significantly improve their well-being and reduce the risk of future infractions.
- Medical Care Over Torture
Solitary confinement should never be used as a substitute for medical care. Some incarcerated people are placed in isolation due to medical conditions, which is not only inhumane but also counterproductive. Those in need of medical attention should receive proper care and treatment to address their health issues, ensuring their overall well-being.
- Legal Assistance Over Torture
Retaliation by guards is an unfortunate reality within the correctional system. Instead of being subjected to isolation, incarcerated people who face unjust treatment require legal assistance and advocacy. Legal representation can protect their rights and hold responsible parties accountable, preventing further harm.
- Prenatal Care Over Torture
The practice of placing pregnant incarcerated people, often impregnated by corrections officials, into solitary confinement is deeply troubling. Pregnant individuals need access to prenatal care, a safe and supportive environment, and proper medical attention to ensure the health of both the mother and child. Solitary confinement is a wholly inappropriate response to pregnancy in a correctional setting.
- Safe Housing Over Torture for Vulnerable Populations
Vulnerable populations, including transgender individuals and youth in adult prisons, require safe and inclusive housing options. Isolation compounds the challenges they face and exacerbates their vulnerability. Implementing housing solutions that address their specific needs and protect their rights is essential to creating a just and humane correctional system.
- Separation vs Isolation and People-Centered Practices
While there may be instances where separation is necessary due to behavioral issues, it can occur without resorting to isolation and torture. Implementing non-punitive separation measures that prioritize therapeutic interventions, conflict resolution, and positive behavior management can help address problematic behaviors while preserving the dignity and mental health of incarcerated people.
- Addressing Suicide Watch with Compassion
Individuals on suicide watch require a compassionate approach. Placing them in solitary confinement exacerbates their emotional distress and can contribute to worsening mental health conditions. Instead, they need specialized care, counseling, and close monitoring by trained professionals to ensure their safety without further harm.
Solitary confinement’s shortcomings as a punitive measure are numerous and deeply troubling. It is imperative that we not only explore and implement effective alternatives for all incarcerated people but also recognize the unique needs of vulnerable populations within correctional facilities. By shifting our approach from punishment to rehabilitation, providing proper medical care, legal assistance, inclusive housing, and compassionate care for those on suicide watch, and embracing people-centered practices for separation when necessary, we can work towards a criminal justice system that promotes personal transformation, reduces recidivism, and upholds the dignity and rights of every individual, regardless of their circumstances. Embracing these alternatives offers a promising path forward towards a more just and humane approach to incarceration.