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Solitary Confinement Injuries

Albuquerque Injury Attorney

Solitary confinement of prisoners is known by a range of names such as isolation, the hole, maximum security, SHUs, administrative segregation, and permanent lockdown. Prisoners can be placed in solitary for any number of reasons: as punishment while under investigation, when suspected of gang involvement, as a mechanism for behavior modification, and when a prisoner is believed to be in danger of other prisoners, to name a few.

What is solitary confinement?

In 1890, the United States Supreme Court attempted to declare that solitary confinement was unconstitutional. Over a hundred years later, the benefits of solitary confinement whether used for administrative, disciplinary or protective purposes has failed to be established.

America's correctional facilities continue to use solitary confinement, which involves confining inmates to tiny cells without windows and cutting them off from human contact for weeks, months or sometimes years at a time; solitary confinement often means:

  • For those suffering from serious mental illness, solitary confinement is akin to torture and aggravates symptoms, particularly: anxiety, depression, anger, perceptual distortions, cognitive disturbances, obsessive thoughts and psychosis.
  • Solitary confinement means 23-24 hours in a cell 6 to 8 feet wide and 9 to 10 feet long.
  • Mental torture including sensory deprivation, permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures, and forced insomnia.
  • Physical torture including hog-tying, restraint chairs, forced cell extraction.
  • Inadequate medical and mental health treatment.

Solitary Confinement Statistics

Over 80,000 inmates are in some form of segregation in U.S. prisons every day and 25,000 of these inmates are being held in supermax prisons, which are predominantly made up of solitary cells. (Human Rights Watch (2003) "Ill-Equipped: US Prisons and Offenders with Mental Illness.")

Beginning in the early 1970s, prisons and jail administrators on the local, state and federal levels began to rely increasingly on isolation and segregation to control men, women and youth in custody. Today there is an estimated 44 states that have supermax facilities confining over 30,000 people.

Numerous studies have documented the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners, giving them the name of Special Housing Unit Syndrome or SHU Syndrome, with the some of the symptoms including: visual and auditory hallucinations, insomnia and paranoia, uncontrollable feelings of fear or rage, PTSD, increased risk of suicide, distortions of time and perception etc.

If a prisoner is not mentally ill at the time he or she enters an isolation unit, by the time they are released their mental health has been severely compromised. Prisoners are released directly to the streets after having spent years in isolation, because of this, solitary confinement poses a public safety, and community health problem.

Solitary confinement aligns with the definition of torture as stated in various human rights treaties, and thus may be a violation of human rights law. To illustrate, the U.N. Convention Against Torture defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person" for obtaining information, a confession, or for punishing, or intimidating or coercing him for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.

The Human Rights Movement

Across the U.S. prisoner led movements have attracted media attention and public scrutiny about the harsh conditions of confinement and the careless treatment of people with mental illness. International human rights experts have condemned prolonged solitary confinement and have recommended that the practice be abolished entirely. In August of 2011, Juan Martinez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment stated that even 15 days in solitary confinement constituted torture or cruel, inhuman punishment, and that after 15 days, prisoners can suffer irreversible psychological effects.

If you or someone you love has been or is being subjected to cruel and inhuman punishment as a result of solitary confinement, we urge you to contact the Law Office of James H. Wood PC to discuss the facts of your case in further detail.

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