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Solitary Confinement

March 4, 2014

Solitary confinement can have permanent psychological consequences for prisoners.



Isolation’s devastating impact. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

750px-SanQuentinSP Aerial view of San Quentin State Prison, in Marin County, California public domain cdcr

San Quentin, a prison that uses solitary confinement. (California Department of Corrections/Wikipedia)

Before the 20th century, solitary confinement was commonly used to punish prisoners for brief periods of time. The practice was largely abandoned because of its negative psychological effects, but began to make a comeback in the 1970s.

CRAIG HANEY (UC Santa Cruz):

Some estimates suggest that there are as many as 80,000 prisoners in the United States who are held like this on any given day.


That’s UC Santa Cruz psychologist Craig Haney. He says these prisoners are often sent to solitary for months or even years, leading to extreme loneliness, depression, irrational anger and social withdrawal.

CRAIG HANEY (UC Santa Cruz):

And in some instances that psychological harm is irreversible.


Upon release, many of these prisoners have a hard time reintegrating into the social lives of their families and communities, which often leads to recidivism. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.