Thousands of Mentally Ill US Prisoners in Solitary Confinement

October 14, 2018

Draconian longterm isolation is torture by any standard, a flagrant Eight Amendment violation, prohibiting “cruel and unusual punishments.” 


The UN Convention Against Torture defines the practice as any state action, “causing severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental…intentionally inflicted on a person” for information, punishment, intimidation, or intentional discrimination. 

The Justice Department National Institute of Corrections defines solitary confinement as prison isolation in “special housing unit(s)…secured housing unit(s), intensive management unit(s), highly restrictive, high-custody housing unit(s)…isolat(ing) inmates from the general prison population and from each other due to…violent…behavior.” 

Punishment substitutes for justice. Inmates are isolated up to 23 hours daily. At any time, tens of thousands of US inmates are repressively isolated, along with others in jails, juvenile and undocumented immigrant incarcerations, as well as military detentions. 


They’re held in tiny cells, most often less than 7 x 7 square feet in size, countless numbers held longterm with minimal or no human contact, food delivered through cell door slots. 

Many isolated prisoners experience hysteria, rage, total loss of control, emotional breakdown, regressive behavior, and self-mutilation. 

They suffer panic attacks, lethargy, insomnia, nightmares, dizziness, social withdrawal, memory and appetite loss, delusions and hallucinations, profound despair and hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, and paranoia. 

Longterm isolation is like being buried alive, for some causing irreversible trauma and sociopathic behavior. Overwhelmed by their surroundings, prisoners can become zombies. 

According to a survey by Yale Law School researchers and the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA), prison isolation is especially harmful to mentally ill inmates. 

Of the 33 states surveyed, only Texas said it had no dysfunctional inmates in solitary confinement, a dubious claim by a state notorious for prison harshness - especially for prisoners in solitary confinement and on death row. 

In his book titled “Texas Tough,” Robert Perkinson called the state the “hardest to do time” in America. 

An exonerated former prisoner on Texas death row called conditions he endured “emotional torture,” the same for others, saying: 

“(G)uys come to prison totally sane, and in three years they don’t live in the real world anymore.” 

Thirteen surveyed states said at least 10% of their isolated male prisoners experienced symptoms of mental illness, a way understated figure. 

An earlier study estimated around 15% of America’s 2.4 million prison population is mentally ill, the figure much higher for inmates experiencing longterm isolation. 

Healthcare in prisons is notoriously deplorable, Even when seriously ill, inmates can wait days for woefully inadequate treatment. 



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