|Posted:||June 2, 2021 04:27 PM|
|From:||Senator Katie J. Muth and Sen. John I. Kane|
|To:||All Senate members|
|Subject:||Solitary Confinement Ban|
Numerous studies have shown that the use of solitary confinement is inhumane and counterproductive. In 2011, a UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, found that solitary confinement “can amount to torture” and “should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique.” Solitary confinement runs counter to the goals of rehabilitation. Instead, state resources should be spent on evidence-based, common sense programs that help people rehabilitate and treat the mental health, addiction, physical, social, or emotional issues that caused them to commit crimes.
Grassian, a board-certified psychiatrist and a former faculty member at Harvard Medical School, interviewed hundreds of people in solitary confinement. In one study, he found that roughly a third of the solitary population was “actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal.” Grassian has since concluded that solitary can cause a specific psychiatric syndrome, characterized by hallucinations; panic attacks; overt paranoia; diminished impulse control; hypersensitivity to external stimuli; and difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory. Some incarcerated people lose the ability to maintain a state of alertness, while others develop crippling obsessions. A 2003 report by Human Rights Watch found that anywhere from one-fifth to two-thirds of prisoners in solitary confinement are believed to have some form of mental illness. Justice Department guidelines have recognized that the mentally ill may not be fit for solitary, as extreme isolation may cause inmates’ psychiatric conditions to dramatically deteriorate.
Further, solitary confinement has deathly consequences. A 1995 study of the federal prison system found that despite making up less than 10 percent of the prison population, 63 percent of suicides occurred among incarcerated people locked in “special housing status,” such as solitary or psychiatric seclusion cell. A 2019 study found of over 225,000 people in North Carolina found that individuals who had spent any time in solitary confinement were 24 percent more likely to die in the first year after release, 78 percent more likely to die by suicide, and 127 percent more likely to die of an opioid overdose.
The use of solitary confinement is not limited to adults: juveniles are also subjected to solitary confinement. According to a 2016 report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, almost half of juvenile detention facilities and training schools reported that they isolate youth for more than four hours to control behavior. Not only is this practice counterproductive and cruel, it is also unfairly applied. Solitary confinement disproportionately affects youth of color, LGBTQ youth, and children with disabilities. In the juvenile justice system, approximately half of all suicides take place when a young person is held in “room confinement.”
Juveniles need development and deserve safety, regardless of their criminal history. When held in solitary confinement, adolescents are often denied access to treatment and programming to meet their developmental and rehabilitative needs. Solitary confinement can cause psychological and emotional harm, trauma, depression, anxiety, and an increased risk of self-harm.
We will be introducing legislation to ban the use of solitary confinement for juveniles and adults. It is long past time we ban this cruel and inhumane practice and promote evidence-based, common sense reforms that support rehabilitation for Pennsylvanians in need of help. Please join us in supporting this important legislation.
Introduced as SB686