Let’s start this conversation.
Why, in 2020, is solitary confinement or segregation, of any kind, still an option in correctional institutions? This inhumane and cruel placement of human beings started in the 1700s when it was believed that throwing a person into an enclosed room with nothing but a bible would offer them adequate time to repent and eventually rehabilitate themselves through religion.
Now, over 300 years later, we have the knowledge, experience, and research to understand and accept that this belief is just not feasible or possible when it comes to rehabilitation. This conversation is not about faith. It is about the environment in which a convicted person is expected to grow. If a parent or guardian locked their child in a closet for days, weeks, months, or years every time they misbehaved, do you really think that child would come out rehabilitated? Absolutely not. That child’s parents would be arrested for child abuse. Why is this form of excessive punishment acceptable with adults?
Although the practice of solitary confinement has evolved to allow an inmate one hour of basic “freedom” outside of a 10-by-6-foot cell every 24 hours, it still remains cruel. If the purpose of incarceration is for denunciation, deterrence, and rehabilitation, then segregation, of any kind, is counterproductive. Correctional facilities are already considered “punishment”, so the focus should not be on over-punishing or further punishing an individual, but to rehabilitate each person so that they can properly integrate back into the community. Although the bible has been swapped out for another piece of literature, not much else has changed drastically enough to make sense in today’s world in terms of solitary confinement and segregation. Human beings are naturally creatures of habit, and in segregation, a positive and meaningful routine just cannot be established.
In British Columbia, the guidelines for placing an individual into disciplinary solitary confinement are to segregate inmates who are a risk to others, to the prison staff, or to the prison itself. Administrative segregation is used to remove an inmate from the general population due to safety or security reasons pertaining to that inmate. It is not meant to be used as a punishment. It is intended to be a form of protection. However, time spent in administrative segregation can be indefinite, while the time spent in disciplinary segregation has to have an end date as a prolonged period of time in this environment and under these circumstances can cause permanent psychological damage.
How does this make any sense? If you are trying to protect an inmate, throwing them into an enclosed space for an undetermined period of time will permanently harm them psychologically. How does it make any sense that someone who is being punished for bad behaviour is granted an end date in which their solitary confinement will stop, but someone who is being protected does not?
As mental health continues to become recognized as a vital aspect of an individual’s overall health through every single developmental stage of life, it only makes sense that more weight be given to helping an inmate understand how to handle stress, relate to others, make good choices, and think and feel positively.
Through positive and negative reinforcement of behaviours, you can help a person understand their antecedents, change their behaviours, and predict their consequences. However, through the use of solitary confinement, only anxiety, depression, and other psychological challenges are instilled in an individual. The positive effects of this type of environment are basically non-existent.
Now, add COVID and this pandemic into the mix. Some correctional facilities have a no-visitor policy to protect the inhabitants of the institute as well as its guests. If an inmate is segregated for 23 hours a day, is dealing with mental health challenges, and is now not permitted to see or talk to their loved ones directly, their capacity to rehabilitate will drastically decrease. There is no winning when it comes to segregation.
I’m curious as to what alternatives there are to solitary confinement. If you know, please write them in the comments below. I understand there are budgets and finances to think about. I am sure that most tax-payers would rather their dollars be spent on education for their youth or on the wellbeing of their communities. However, investing in the wellbeing of your prison systems is an investment into your community. Ensuring that customized programming, time in nature, and adequate professional guidance is received in place of segregation will help rehabilitate and ready incarcerated individuals to integrate safely back into our communities. Avoiding the problem does not fix the problem.
As for individuals who are placed into administrative segregation, this is meant to be a protective measure and not a long-term solution. There is evidence to suggest that after only one day in solitary confinement, an individual can suffer irreversible psychological damage. Imagine what an indefinite amount of time in such an environment can do to someone’s mental health. There must be another way.
Please let me know your thoughts and experiences on this topic. I am interested in what you have to say.