Steve Chapman on Solitary Confinement and Its Costs


Adam Jones, PhD

In recent decades, our correctional institutions have made ever-increasing use of solitary confinement. By 2005, more than 80,000 prisoners were held this way. The total exceeds that of any other country in the democratic world. But the tide may be turning. On Wednesday, the New York state government reached a settlement banning the use of extreme isolation for juveniles and limiting it for adults. Other states are reassessing the practice, and Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., will convene a hearing on it. This is not the first time Americans have gone through this learning sequence, points out Steve Chapman. The use of isolation originated in this country in the early 19th century, with the purpose of spurring criminals to reflect on their misdeeds and repent. But the results were catastrophic, and the incidence of mental disturbances among prisoners so detained was so great that the system fell into disfavor and was ultimately abandoned.