Up to 20,000 prisoners are held for long periods of time in solitary confinement each year in fifty-seven American supermax prisons and by one count up to 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement at any given time in the American prison system, which for a Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney is a stunning number.
Tampa Bay Florida does not have any supermax prisons but we do have plenty of prisoners in the Pinellas County Jail and in Hillsborough County Jails who are subjected to solitary confinement for violations of arbitrary prison requirments, rules and regulations within our local prisons with little judicial oversight. For example, I represented a client whose meager yet unmet vegan food requirements led to ever greater minor jailhouse harassment, then to minor punishments and finally penalties that included time spent in solitary confinement even as my client lost weight at an alarming rate.
Terrible Jail conditions have been shown to create higher future crime rates even at our local prisons in Tampa Bay as worse the brutal conditions are in jails the more likely it is that prisoners will not reform once released.
Keeping all this in mind are our local prisons violating the 8th amendment standards for cruel and unusual punishment by subjecting prisoners to solitary confinement for minor transgressions of fluctuating prison rules? A recent Law Journal article notes that there have been many psychological studies showing what to a normal person would seem obvious, that solitary confinement is extremely harmful to prisoners:
Numerous psychological studies of prolonged solitary confinement detail the serious psychological harm to prisoners of such isolation. As one recent comprehensive survey of the psychiatric research on solitary confinement concludes, “Solitary confinement can have serious psychological, psychiatric, and sometime physiological effects on many prison inmates. A long list of possible symptoms from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and outright insanity…“
|Maclise, Charles Dickens, 1839|
The article goes on to note that this isn’t new science, we’ve known it for well over a hundred years as when Charles Dickens visited the Cherry Hill prison in 1842 and noted: “I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers . . . there is a depth of terrible endurance in it which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom, and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow-creature. I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.“