The criminal justice system is meant to operate under the assumption of certain principles designed to both protect the public from harm and to respect the rights of anyone accused or convicted by the system. Those who are forced to mount a criminal defense are supposed to be given access to due process and equal protection under the law. In addition, those who are convicted are supposed to be treated in ways that are neither cruel nor unusual.
Unfortunately, one particular punishment tactic that is used with great frequency within the American criminal justice system may fall under the categories of both cruel and unusual punishment. The system’s use of solitary confinement on convicted offenders has recently been criticized vocally and frequently by criminal justice advocates, medical professionals and various influential and knowledgeable experts.
When used sparingly, only when absolutely necessary and only for reasonable amounts of time, solitary confinement can be used to keep the prison population safe from those who cannot be trusted around fellow inmates. However, it is too often being used for months or years on end to punish minor offenses, set an example for other inmates and other reasons that do not ordinarily justify its use.
As the American public comes to understand just how damaging solitary confinement can be and how significantly this punishment is being either inappropriately used or generally overused, opposition to this practice has been steadily growing. Hopefully significant and binding reform on the use of solitary confinement will be embraced by legislators with the consideration and urgency that the issue deserves.
Source: New York Times, “Climbing Out of the Hole,” Jesse Wegman, July 20, 2013