President Bill Clinton’s crime bill led to millions of people becoming incarcerated across the nation during the 1990s. As a result, the practice of solitary confinement became a useful tool for prison guards controlling inmates. Before the turn of the century, this procedure was used as a way to deal with erring prisoners.
For example, convicted felon Albert Woodfox was held in solitary confinement in a Louisiana prison for 40 years. He was released in 2016 at the age of 69. He incorporated his experiences in a book called “Solitary.” In his book, he asserts that he wondered if he would be able to keep his sanity.
Solitary confinement is the practice of prison institutions segregating prisoners who are rebellious to the rules and norms of the prison system by keeping them in an isolated cell for a certain period of time. The prisoners cannot interact with other prisoners, relax in the prison yard or take a shower. Prisons all over the country use this technique on its erring prisoners. The victims of this procedure are disproportionately men of color.
This cruel procedure does have a history. For example, in 1890 the Supreme Court heard a case involving a person who was waiting for execution and was placed in solitary confinement. The court ruled that solitary confinement was an extra punishment.
By the end of the 1890s, the practice was all but ended. Yet the practice was established again in the 1980s and 1990s. The public outrage at rising crime rates reintroduced this practice. Also, the practice became a tool that prison administration officials used to deal with prison overcrowding and protect prison guards from violent inmates.
Several states such as Colorado are adopting policies to curb or amend this practice. The reformed practice allows prisoners increased psychological counseling, limits the amount of time for inmates to stay within this process and rewards them for good behavior.
Colorado and other states are justified in trying to end this prison tactic. In New York City, Kalief Browder was 16 years old when he was arrested for stealing a backpack. His family couldn’t afford to bail him out of jail. He spent three years waiting for a court hearing. He spent some time in solitary confinement in jail. After finally being released from jail and charges were dropped, he came back to his home, confined himself to his room and paced back and forth nonstop. His life came to a tragic, bitter end.
Solitary confinement truly is a punishing tactic.