Prison is a scary place, but you’re definitely not alone. Unless you are in a single cell maximum security facility, chances are you will be in a cell/room with at least one other person.
In the prison where I was incarcerated, we lived in a dormitory-style house, with six prisoners living in a room designed to accommodate four. Mass incarceration and overcrowding have led prisons to add extra berths to every inch of unused space they can find. And, it means that no matter where you go, you’re never alone unless you get into trouble.
Since prison is an intimidating and fearful place, some people might think it wise to ask for isolation. Wouldn’t that make your time in prison easier to deal with and keep you from violence?
This question leads to today’s blog post: Can you ask to be isolated in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- What is protective custody?
- What are the effects of solitary confinement?
What is protective custody?
Prisoners who request isolation will be denied. Yes, you can ask for it, but the answer will be a big “no”. However, there are several ways to completely separate your own cell from the rest of the prison population.
Prisoners in maximum security or SuperMax facilities are usually kept in single cells. However, this is not the prisoner’s request. Prisons also separate you from the general public if you commit serious infractions such as fighting. This is called going to the “hole” or “SHU”.
You can also be isolated in your own cell if you are very ill and need to be isolated. The last way to keep a cell monopolized is protective custody.
Now, while you can’t ask for isolation all you want, you can ask to be separated from prison personnel and placed in protective custody if you are in danger. In the prison I’m in, if you want protective custody, you have to speak to an officer and fill out a form.
I never asked, “PC”, so I never saw a form you had to fill out. However, I’m sure you’ll have to name the enemy and give a specific reason for needing to quarantine. I can’t imagine this going on for more than a few days, but I could be wrong.
High-profile prisoners, such as celebrities and politicians — or former police officers, prosecutors and correctional officers behind bars — are automatically placed in protective custody because they are automatically deemed at risk.
Additionally, inmates incarcerated for crimes against children—particularly sex offenders—are often isolated because many inmates do not think twice about committing violence against such individuals. There is a code in prison that if people who harm children are allowed to live with ordinary people, they will not survive.
What are the effects of solitary confinement?
When you’re in quarantine, it’s like being in a prison within a prison. If you are in solitary confinement for an extended period of time, it can have some serious effects on your mental health.
The isolation cell is a small concrete room behind a solid steel door, most without any windows or outside lights. Prisoners in solitary confinement spend 22 to 24 hours a day in their cells, where they have very limited contact with other people.
Your visitation rights are either eliminated entirely or reduced to non-contact visits with family members, phone calls are extremely rare, and you are only allowed to shower once a week.
When you are held in solitary confinement, you are also cut off from prison procedures. So, that means no educational sessions, work or entertainment. Also, you have very little access to mental health treatment of any kind.
There was no TV or music, limited access to books, and very limited personal possessions. To make matters worse, the inmates being housed are essentially suffering from sensory deprivation, permanently bright lights (they never turn them off), extreme temperatures, and forced insomnia.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, more than 80,000 people are currently in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. This does not include those in prisons, juvenile detention centers and immigration detention centers.
Some prisoners are held in solitary confinement for years, and numerous studies have shown this can have devastating effects, such as:
- visual and auditory hallucinations
- Allergies to noise and touch
- insomnia and paranoia
- Uncontrollable feelings of anger and fear
- Distortion of Time and Perception
- increased suicide risk
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
It’s even worse for teens and people with mental health issues. Prisoners whose brains are still developing or who are mentally ill will have their mental health severely compromised by isolation are released straight to the street with no mental health care.
Solitary confinement actually meets the definition of torture and is a violation of human rights law. Some states are considering ending that. But we still have a long way to go before we come close to abolishing this form of punishment.
Should solitary confinement still be allowed as punishment in prisons? Let us know in the comments below.