The modern prison system globally have enthusiastically been abusing prisoners since the idea of a prison first had been conceptualized. This act of violating human rights has been created to punish prisoners but instead causes irreversible pain and suffering to its victims. This violation is known as prison isolation, referred to as”The hole”, “The shoe”, etc. The usage of isolation is not a method of rehabilitation as so widely claimed to “punish” the prisoners for varying degrees of crime. The United States is the worst offender in the world for this act of cruelty towards rehabilitating members of society, The U.S leads the world in Solitary confinement rates.
While many other countries in Europe have removed this as a punishment entirely, instead European countries better utilize prisons for rehabilitation rather than punishment. This is because solitary confinement is more damaging than helpful in deterring people from crime and in some cases actually promotes violence making it harder for prisoners to get out of prison. Prisoners have been found to develop anxiety disorders and in some cases schizophrenia after long term solitary confinement. Development of these symptoms most commonly occurs after a specific type of solitary confinement has been implemented for long perilous durations. This variant of isolation has been banned but is still widely used in countries whose governments do not have the best reputation. This isolation is known as “sensory deprivation” where no stimuli is given to the prisoner in any way and the brain begins to fill the gaps with its own information. Sensory deprivation is devastating and if it goes on long enough could lead to psychotic breaks or the inability to determine reality from what they perceive.
This occurs because people are designed to be social, humans have only evolved because of their ability to interact with one another. Prisons in the United states have extremely high rates of gang influence and gang presence. This is a perfect example of how humans exhibit social behavior, each individual all shares a common interest until they meet their goal (Fleisher, 2001, pg.
1-9). This has been a part of human nature ever since the first tribes were formed. The entirety of society was founded on the core system of social ability and has engineered humanity to become better and achieve goals that would be otherwise unthinkable. But this core system is the reason isolation and sensory deprivation is so dangerous to people. Without social interactions many skills can disappear for example language is a major one. In some severe cases after long periods of isolation some speech impediments have been known to develop and become very difficult to overcome. Why this happens is simple, if pathways in the brain are not in use they will be forgotten and become ‘rusty’.
It’s just like when a child learns a language when they are younger and cannot remember how to speak it when they are older, it’s simply because they have forgotten. Of course language skills can always be brushed up on but only because they still have that part of their brain and it is functioning. After long periods of isolation prisoners brain anatomy changed after the long periods of nonuse. These effects if they have reached this point are completely irreversible as brain tissue and nerve connections in the brain cannot repair itself. Many prisoners due to insufficient sensory input in the first few days develop Hypersensitivity due to insufficient stimuli (Stuart,2006,pg 335-336). Why this happens is the bodies sensory focus becomes acute because the brain is looking for any detail to stimulate the neural pathways that are dying off from the lack of sensation. Only after this the body begins to hallucinate to activate the senses on its own to prevent further damage to the brain.
From these hallucinations stems panic attacks as the slightest stimuli can activate a large response which would cause many other medical problems mentally and physically later in life.Now the only way to reach this point in the American prison system is months on end in solitary confinement. The longer the stay in total isolation the more damaging the effects to the prisoner.(Rhodes, 2005, pg. Decompensation) Even though the physical anatomy of the brain takes many months to become damaged, It only takes a few short hours for the mental instability or damage to set in. With most solitary confinement units keeping lights on for twenty-four hours a day and an unchanging view besides every few days being allowed to go outside to exercise there is little stimulation with no chance and social interaction. During the periods of similar sensory input and insufficient input the brain usually fills in the gaps of sensory input it is receiving and this causes realistic hallucinations (Rhodes, 2005).
The duration of the prisoners solitary confinement is not decided by correctional officer but instead determined by the warden of the prison and has no maximum time the warden is allowed to leave a prisoner in solitary confinement(Stuart,2006,pg.328-330). There is no regulation for prisons to follow to ensure durations in solitary confinement are safe or even moral. Some studies have come out recently highlighting how quickly these effects can transpire in the elderly. The study was examining older people who had just lost a spouse and were living alone. The study showed the social isolation of these older people along with the emotional trauma had rapidly increased risk and development of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Researchers have not been studying solitary confinement long enough or attentive enough to find a correlation between these long periods of isolation and development of Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life but the results are likely probable and predictable from what is already known. This is because as the older people get the harder it is for them to fulfill their social roles and stay connected due to insufficient mobility and retirement usually keeps people at home more than going out.
This is also due to health conditions from smoking or just old age inhibiting elderly people from being as social as they could have been in their younger age (Cornwell, 2009, Pg.forms of social isolation among older Adults).Normal isolation is already damaging and can lead to major problems later in life, But it is not the worst form of isolation. Complete sensory isolation can accelerate these effects and cause much worse effects in even more hazardous environments. For this because complete sensory isolation has been banned in the United States, The research best and most publicly known for this is conducted in Iran. Iran is one of the most publicly known for using sensory deprivation techniques for their supposed ‘spies’ who enter their country. One specific case is the case of Sarah Shourd who had been backpacking in Iraq when she accidentally crossed the border into Iran and she was detained and then experienced over ten thousand hours of sensory deprivation (Bond, 2014, Pg.
1). Her terrifying experience with the Iranians created an insight no researcher had ever been able to see before into the human mind and the true effects of complete isolation. One of the effects shown was something called “Time shifting” where time seemed to move much slower than had actually transpired. This effect was shown once before by a french geologist Michel siffre (Bond, 2014, Pg.1). The effect was proven to show a change in perception in time that went hand in hand with hypersensitivity and the body trying to find extra stimuli in any way it can. The same effect can be found in people undergoing traumatic experiences or when their life is in danger.
For example a firefighter in a burning house will perceive time slower because his brain is analyzing more stimuli due to the sympathetic nervous system is activating a heightened response to the danger. Another aspect of this is the unchanging lighting in the environment which causes a loss in sense of time which affects our internal clock and shortens sleep cycles and changes the sleep cycle making only vital parts of sleep possible. To what extent she had been isolated was quite extreme. They used a method known as “white rooms” in which all the walls ceiling and floor are completely white, as well as her clothes and the only food she received consisted of white rice on a white plate.
This completely eliminates all sound and ability to visually judge direction. The next measure is the rooms are soundproofed but she was not allowed to make a sound or she could have been killed. Next she was barely allowed to move but whenever she did she accounts only moving to the door to try and listen to something to break the deprivation because the sounds and hallucinations had been so extreme. She talked about afterward the PTSD she has now after some terrible hallucinations she had seen inside of the room (Bond, 2014). The brain created its own worst nightmare in that situation just to avoid experiencing insufficient stimuli actually present.
But while in Sarah’s case due to the longevity of the experience and the circumstances it was traumatic. But some are starting to intentionally cause sensory deprivation as a way of meditation or relaxing. The way this is done is through sensory deprivation tanks which are filled with Epsom salt in which the subject floats and becomes ‘weightless’ causing full sensory deprivation. These tanks run on the same principle but yield two completely different results. Why this occurs is still unknown, but what is known is the factor of control and being able to control your situation causes major perception changes and allows the ability to calm yourself knowing you are safe. (Stuart, 2006, 347)Another major factor previously discussed is time.
Time plays a crucial role in the ability to reintegrate into society or even back into the regular prison system after long term solitary confinement. While in solitary confinement and the total social isolation faced during the time prisoners develop new habits to cope. One reason for these habits are to provide stimulus to the senses which, for a while will keep out the hallucinations and keep the prisoner in the moment. Ones a pattern has been started it becomes a state of comfort for the prisoner.
Depending on how long the solitary confinement lasts the prisoner could develop a comforting habit for the rest of their life. As discussed earlier the brain to protect itself goes as far as to create hallucinations to try and stimulate these neural pathways. This is because of the most progressive symptom from solitary confinement which os by far the most damaging. This is the fact the brain degrades and those neural pathways die and cannot be reconnected or the pathways are used are so “rusty” they have a very difficult time firing. This physically makes it difficult for an inmate who was in solitary confinement to focus and often causes a “fog” to roll over their mind. Making everything confusing and more difficult to understand. In the journal “Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement” by Stuart Grassian, He accounts a time where a prisoner had “slashed his wrists” in such a state due to an inability to read after a long duration of solitary confinement and the inability to remember anything (Stuart, 2006, pg.
335). The reintegration of prisoners is impossible with the level of damage received during solitary confinement on an emotional or physical level. Another extremely common issue is nearly half of prisoners interviewed in this research (Stuart, 2006, pg.
336) all have developed a form of severe paranoia and severe impulse and aggression control. With the combination of the amount of drugs prisons actually have and the lack of ability to reform in prison there is no wonder prisons in the United States are overcrowded, It’s because nobody can ever get out.After these traumatic experiences the prisoners faced the ones who could function in a normal prison system the majority of the time had to find a way to cope. Because prison therapists truly aren’t looked at by paranoid prisoners as a first resort usually the prisoners fall back on drugs which then only amplifies the damage the prisoners already have.
Drugs have an unknown prominence in the prison system to the majority of people not involved with the prison system. With gangs being a major issue in prison narcotics follow suit and drug abuse is rampant in prison depending on which part of the United States the prison is found or the population. This creates an even larger issue, prisoners can never get out of prison and when they do they will fall right back to where they started. The mentally ill who previously had been sent to solitary confinement post solitary confinement are worse off then they were before. While solitary confinement causes mental illness in prisoners who had never before shown signs or symptoms of any mental illness show signs of severe illness. In this way the system in place has completely neglected the mentally ill and are mistreating the basic principles of human rights being allowed by the country that was the creator of these ideas we call human rights(Stuart,2006, Pg.353).
The original purpose of a prison is to ensure prisoners can be rehabilitated into society or if they cannot they are under constant care until they die. This concept was created to support and help people who had run into the worst of life’s troubles or give a chance for the mentally ill to get treatment for something they had not known existed before they had broken the law. This is the way almost all of the world works. In Germany a man was convicted of mass murder for poisoning his patience in his hospital over the course of his career. He received a life sentence deservingly for his evil crime. While in the united states cocaine dealers if linked with enough cocaine can lead to this same level of sentencing. But in Germany they will use the prison time to teach and try to help the person come to terms with what he had done and try to help the person while the United States prison system will punish and that drug dealer has a very low chance to ever get out of prison or ever get parole. This is the fundamental why the United States has an prison issue because most people who enter prison makes it very difficult to leave.
If no prisoners are able to leave it makes prisons more expensive which then results in higher tax rates for the working American. The American prison system at a minimum value costs roughly eighty billion dollars annually and has been estimated a total cost of one trillion dollars annually. This cost is equivalent to one seventh of the United States debt. Solitary confinement is a major contributor as it makes it nearly impossible for prisoners to leave the prison or stay out of prison after they initially get out.
This genuinely by many officials of the prison system have stated this is unacceptable and prison conditions in the United States have become a market rather than a means to support people and help them develop a better way to live (Stuart, 2006, Pg.354-355). The system currently in America needs radical reform and a change to protect its citizens from its own hypocrisy.