|Ending Torture in U.S. Prisons|
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture's work on U.S. prisons is primarily focused on the use of solitary confinement. Solitary confinement has a variety of labels including isolation, segregation (“seg”), “the hole”, and many more. Regardless of the label, the conditions share common features. Prisoners are held by themselves in small cells for up to 23 hours per day and exercise alone for the remaining hour. Some prisoners have been held for months, years, even decades, in these isolated conditions and have experienced long-term mental harm as a result. Many studies have documented the detrimental psychological effects of solitary confinement, such as hallucinations, paranoia, and panic attacks. For NRCAT, the term 'prolonged solitary confinement’ is equated to torture - the point when the use of solitary confinement results in severe mental or physical pain or suffering.
The United States is a world leader in holding prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement. There are 44 state-run super-max prisons and one federal super-max prison -- each of which holds inmates exclusively in solitary confinement. At least 80,000 people in the U.S. criminal justice system are held in solitary confinement on any given day. From 1995 to 2000, the growth rate of segregation units significantly surpassed the prison growth rate overall: 40% compared to 28%. Some argue that the use of solitary confinement is a necessary management tool used for only the “worst of the worst”. However, prisoners sometimes end up in solitary confinement or are unable to move out of isolation due to non-violent prison rule infractions. This is especially the case for mentally-ill prisoners. Read this March 2012 New York Times article on the super-max prison in Parchman, Mississippi and its decision to dramatically reduce prisoners in solitary confinement because of the harm it caused to the mental health of the prisoners as well as the fiscal benefits it would gain from the change.
Prolonged solitary confinement destroys prisoners’ minds, denies the opportunity for community, and violates the inherent, God-given dignity and worth of every person. As people of faith, we are called to speak for those in our community who have no voice, including the imprisoned. We invite you to join our efforts to end prolonged solitary confinement.