Examining the Decades Long Debate Over Solitary Confinement

solitary confinement

A documentary film entitled Solitary Nation, which appeared on PBS on Tuesday, April 22, showcased the decades-long debate over solitary confinement. This show is a first-hand inside look into the prison system and how the prisoners themselves view the prison. Prison is a hard place to contend with as it is, but solitary confinement can lead to more problematic symptoms, according to The Atlantic. Accordingly, solitary confinement can cause issues such as mental illness and leads to signs of insanity. These symptoms manifest after the prisoner has spent time in confinement. The duration, or time spent, varies for each prisoner and the effects manifest according to this. Although these dangers are known, the argument for solitary confinement still remains that it makes prisons safer by isolating the most dangerous prisoners. This has been the argument for several decades and does not seem to be progressively changing for the better. The documentary aims at helping to overturn and examine this and help those in charge understand the harmful effects of confinement in the prison system.

In relation to this, the mental illnesses which manifest in the film Solitary Nation tend to cause harmful behavior in the prisoners and those around them, which directly relates to the decades-long debate over solitary confinement. The behavior is not only dangerous for cellmates and guards, but it also becomes a self-inflicting behavior for the prisoner, and eventually something the public will have to contend with when the prisoners are released from the prison system. In response to this, the prison guards have to exercise harsh disciplinary behavior, which in effect begins a cycle of bad behavior within the prison system. The system which is supposed to keep people safe does not do so, but instead causes more harm to everyone affected. Afterwards, these men are released back into society but have not been treated for any mental illnesses they may have developed while in confinement.

According to The Atlantic, the film questions why no help is currently provided to the inmates for mental well-being. The newspaper also states that there is evidence pointing to positive outcomes. However, saving money and most importantly, saving lives, are not being taken into consideration. It is apparent that action needs to be taken within the politics and realms of the prison system for the betterment of the prisoners as well as for the betterment of society. If the system can be helped, it should be done so immediately for the well-being of the prisoners and for society. This is a pressing matter and should be taken more seriously.

The documentaries are a two-part series. The first was aired on April 22, and is called Solitary Nation.  It appeared on PBS and speaks of the decades-long debate over solitary confinement. The second part aired April 29 and is called Prison State. These documentaries give the viewer an up-close look at the solitary confinement units in Maine’s maximum security prison. These documentaries are firsthand accounts. Prison State is more emotionally involving, as it follows four residents of a housing project in Louisville, Kentucky, as they come in and out of the jail system.

By Anah Ayala

The Atlantic
BBC News

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