Something has gone terribly wrong with criminal justice in the United States and our once inspiring nation has now become a frightening police state. While occasionally we do hear a story of a police officer committing an unusually kind act, unfortunately the national media is dominated by stories of police officers abusing their power and authority by beating and hurting people unjustly and then charging them with crimes thereafter. Our prison system has become a legitimized ‘for-profit’ industry where citizens are entrapped by an ever-growing number of criminal laws, then forced into mega-prisons where the abuse of civil and human rights is epidemic.
Things have changed dramatically in America in just the last 15 years alone, and now torture has become an accepted practice by our military, our police officers, and also by those who staff our prisons and schools.
Both physical and psychological in nature, institutionalized torture takes on many forms in America today, and one of the growing trends in our penal system is the medieval concept of ‘solitary confinement,’ where people, for whatever reasons, are forced into prolonged isolation in a lonely dark cage or box and denied contact with other human beings and simple luxuries such as sunlight.
The physical details of an isolated prisoner’s daily experience are worth examining.
“Prisoners live in their cells, 80 square feet on average—a bit bigger than a king-sized bed. In this environment, you sleep, you eat, you defecate, you live all of your life,” Haney said. Most prisoners spent at least 23 hours per day in this environment, devoid of stimuli (some are allowed in a yard or indoor area for an hour or less daily), and are denied physical contact on visits from friends and family, so they may go years or decades without touching another human, apart from when they’re placed in physical restraints by guards. [Source]
Solitary confinement is now a rather common law enforcement procedure with total disregard for the psychological damage that it inflicts on sufferers. Frighteningly, this practice is also on the rise our nation’s juvenile prisons as well, and is legally approved by the Federal government.
According to the SolitaryWatch.com, there are over 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement as of 2005, enough to fill a good-size football stadium, and scientists recently convened to discuss the impact this practice has on human health:
As the number of prisoners in solitary has exploded, psychologists and neuroscientists have attempted to understand the ways in which a complete lack of human contact changes us over the long term. According to a panel of scientists that recently spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Chicago, research tells us that solitary is both ineffective as a rehabilitation technique and indelibly harmful to the mental health of those detained. [Source]
The symptoms of solitary confinement are typical of severe psychological distress and can include hallucinations, chronic depression, heart palpitations, extreme anxiety, dizziness, loss of the sense of self, loss of identity, increased risk of suicide and self-inflicted harm, and more.
Neurologists are also looking at the neurological effects of solitary confinement and are concluding that actual physiological changes occur within the human brain when exposed to this type of soft torture:
The hippocampus, in particular, has been found to dramatically shrink in the brains of people who are depressed or stressed for extended periods, a concern because it’s crucially involved in memory, geographic orientation, cognition and decision-making.[Source]
Torture by Any Other Name
Torture has, in a short decade or so, become widely accepted as a new American tradition, and with the help of the entertainment industry and mainstream television programs like 24, Americans have been propagandized and totally desensitized to various heinous acts of torture. In the media, reality is blurred and exaggerated so thoroughly that solitary confinement appears rather tame to Americans who are accustomed to seeing staged images depicting extremely horrible forms of physical torture.
Yet the internationally recognized definition of torture, as defined in Article 1 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is easily comprehensible:
Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. [Source]
By this measure, the psychological effects of solitary should easily be considered torture by any compassionate human being, especially when considering the science that validates this.
Below is a short video that details some of the horror stories of today’s youth who’ve been exposed to prolonged isolation in the juvenile justice system:
Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. He is a staff writer for WakingTimes.com and an avid student of Yoga and life.