Solitary Confinement is Torture

Rather than fading away, solitary imprisonment, a form of torture in my view, has become more common:

Criminal Justice Policy Review: Solitary confinement is a harsh form of custody involving isolation from the general prison population and highly restricted access to visitation and programs. Using detailed prison records covering three decades of confinement practices in Kansas, we find solitary confinement is a normal event during imprisonment. Long stays in solitary confinement were rare in the late 1980s with no detectable racial disparities, but a sharp increase in capacity after a new prison opening began an era of long-term isolation most heavily affecting Black young adults. A decomposition analysis indicates that increases in the length of stay in solitary confinement almost entirely explain growth in the proportion of people held in solitary confinement. Our results provide new evidence of increasingly harsh prison conditions and disparities that unfolded during the prison boom.

Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.


Being alone for a while is not severe physical or mental pain. Or if for some delicate criminals it is, don't do the crime if you can't do the time, as your famous Tony Baretta said. Some criminals like to be alone and grow from the experience. Depriving them of the opportunity to grow and learn and become better-adapted to their circumstances is the real torture, Alex.

It has shown repeteadly that isolation for prolonged periods causes irreversible psychological damage and hinders any chance of rehabilitation. Not interacting with other people literally drives you mad, and makes you allucinate. This is not the same as spending time alone voluntarily.

There is no purpose in forced isolation, other than retribution, revenge or sadism. I think it is counterproductive and immoral to do so and it should clearly be understood to infringe on the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

No purpose? Nothing to do with managing behavior that endangers or worsens the lives of other prisoners and prison staff? I wouldn't really know.

A principle for rational government action in a democracy is that any restriction in someone's liberties should be strictly tailored to achieve the desired (legitimate) goal. In case a prisoner needs their behavior managed, proper measures can be taken, but isolation (i.e., restricting all contact with other people for long time) is overkill and unnecessary. You can kep the person in separate cells, with greater supervision, etc., without resorting to this cruel (but unfortunately not unusual) punishment of complete isolation.

Further, even if we accept that there is a purpose in isolation, the way in which its use is growing is not easily explained via reasons that most people would consider legitimate.

“Baretta” was his nickname because he used a baretta gun.


I would like to see the abolishion of prisons completely and a proper rehabilitation service erected in its place. But I will be happy to start with the outlawing of solitary confinement.

How do you propose we rehabilitate sociopaths? Their antisocial ways are very difficult to treat, as an mental health professional will tell you.

Psychedelics. Legalize them. All of them. Now.

I'll bet quite a few of the psychopaths out on the streets are there because of them.

You don't worry about incentive problems with such an approach?

Are we ready for war with Iran? That's the real question.

Did everyone see this taunt?

We might have to readjust our views on social media, if Twitter fights can escalate directly to war.

(And yes, in that view these were two idiots, Khamenei straight up asking for it, with "you can't do anything.")

Yesterday during my holiday travels I listened to an interview of Peter Bergen, the author of the recent book "Trump and his Generals: the Cost of Chaos". Bergen's main point, which he made repeatedly, is that Trump makes decisions based on his "gut", that Trump abhors the "process" approach to making decisions/policy, and that Trump believes his "gut" is superior to all other approaches including the "process" approach. If Trump had not run off his Generals, and the "process" approach to policy had been used Monday night, one wonders if the decision would have been made to kill the highest ranking Iranian military officer and his aides as they were leaving the Baghdad airport? That Trump made the decision in response to a taunt and without weighing the risks and rewards is alarming. One even has to wonder if Trump talked to Mohammad Bin Salman before making the decision. That America, after all these years at war in the region, hasn't been able to make distinctions between our enemies confounds me. Sunni Muslims attacked America on 9/11, Sunni Muslim insurgents killed and maimed thousands of America soldiers in Iraq, and Sunni Muslim extremists including ISIS and al Qaeda have committed outrageous acts of violence in the region while spurring chaos, yet we continue to kowtow to the repressive Sunni Muslim regime in Saudi Arabia. Iranian Shia Muslims may be no bargain, but at least they helped defeat the Sunni Muslim extremists in Iraq and Syria. For context, Sunni Muslims make up over 85% of Muslims worldwide, Shia Muslims less than 15%.

The photograph of Roosevelt meeting Ibn Saud on the USS Quincy captures one of the most Faustian moments in US history.

Hes just doing the Saudis bidding. He is their Muhktar in America.

Not everything in the world is a result of racism. People in prison kill other prisoners and commit other heinous crimes against fellow prisoners. They have to be separated from general population. The guards don’t choose who commits those crimes that require solitary confinement the prisoner does. Should the black offenders go unpunished until a white offender kills someone and THEN the black offender can be punished???

I would like to see the abolishion of violent crime and violent criminals.

What if the violent criminals don't want to be rehabilitated? Because committing violent crimes is part of who they are. Wouldn't that be cruel and unusual punishment, a hideous form of torture and violation of the Popeye Principle, that is to say, the right to be who you are and must be? Not unlike trying to cure homosexuals by lobotomizing them?

I propose the replacement of solitary with chemical castration. It would require a pattern of violent behavior and a court order. If they begin to behave again, then it could be stopped. I think this would go a long way to addressing the root of the problem.

You're right, solitary confinement is torture. People who are too dangerous to be around OTHER HARDENED CRIMINALS should get lethal injection instead.
If we abort people with down syndrome, why don't we post-birth-abort people with violent-criminal-syndrome?

Oddly (when viewed from the outside anyway), one of the few things that all Americans continue to agree on, whatever their political opinions might otherwise be, is that criminals are irredeemable monsters who deserve no sympathy. Which is why everybody makes jokes about prison rape and no one gives a damn about other forms of prison torture either, up to and including prolonged solitary confinement.

For an example, see every single comment above mine, from people who might get quite upset about things like Abu Grhaib, but who seem positively giddy at the prospect of torturing ordinary American prisoners.

Never, ever, expect to find a cross-section of American beliefs in MR comments. It's essentially a low grade alt-right fever swamp. With a few stubborn exceptions.

Completely absurd.

There are maybe 2-3 Trump supporters among the commenters, and 3 or so obvious trolls who pretend to be alt-right some days and Brazilians other days.

For Boomers who can’t internet and take the bait every single time it must be confusing.

Here’s a lesson though:

anyone like anonymous who thinks any Opposition to Elizabeth Warren or rights based libertarianism is a secret Trojan Horse for Putin to literally take over the United States is a conspiracy addled lunatic.

To a conspiracy lunatic, anyone who claims the sky is blue must seem like they’re in a fever swamp.

Who is your candidate? Is that candidate sane, rational, and in a position to win? If none of those, adjust accordingly.

Also you must not be American, because your take is outdated by a decade or two.

Justice reform is now a bipartisan issue. Landmark criminal justice reform legislation was passed in the last 2 years with bipartisan backing.

State and municipalities are doing the same thing (with both red and blue gov) with the goal of reducing incarceration.

We haven’t gone far enough, but we’re making progress. The wall we’re about to hit is incarcerated violent criminal offenders. We simply have much more violent crime than other OECD nations.

Give me a break. The only way "justice reform" is going anywhere is in one of two ways:
1. "This is a way to save money."
2. "Let's not lock up people the voters in this district/state overwhelmingly like."

Neither of those puts any kind of dent in my original point.

Europeans know a thing or two about concentration camps, especially for the innocent, so spare us the Euro virtue signaling.

Yes, which is why we don't do it anymore.

Solitary confinement sounds so awful I shall avoid acting such that I am placed there.

You racist scumbag!

Yet we support the Japanese regime, which makes sistematic use of solitary confinement, not to mention kangaroo trials. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

We surely are hypocrites.

Solitary Confinement is not torture. It is a beautiful opportunity to have time and space to reflect, grow, blossom, and become a better, more wonderful person. The real torture and crime is depriving people of this beautiful opportunity. Which I'm sorry to say, Prof. Alex seems to be advocating. I hope Prof. Alec reflects deeply on this thought crime (as the North Americans like to say) and comes to a wiser conclusion.

Solitary Confinement is not torture. It is a beautiful opportunity to have time and space to reflect, grow, blossom, and become a better, more wonderful person. The real torture and crime is depriving people of this beautiful opportunity. Which I'm sorry to say, Prof. Alex seems to be advocating. I hope Prof. Alex reflects deeply on this thought-crime (as the North Americans like to say) and comes to a wiser conclusion.

I agree with Pak Chang Tong. I also concur to the opinion of Dzoldzaya There is nothing as sweet as spending some quality time alone to reflect and mediate, and avoid being brutalized by the other inmates. Japanese people LOVE to do this. As your famous Tony Barreta (aka Baretta) said, if you are an extrovert and can't handle being alone for a short stretch of time, don't do the crime.
There are some who advocate grinding criminals and jobless males of all colors into a mash to feed pigs. Considering this alternative, solitary confinement is pretty sweet. And by the way calling it "confinement" makes it seem oh so horrible. Confinement is a state of mind. The mind which leads you astray. Reconceptualize it as a delightful period of safety, security, peace and quiet, and isolation from most of the rest of the human species. People will line up and pay for it. I believe Tyler agrees with me on this, or at least the essential points. Alex is, I'm sad to say, either a lost cause, or a troll.

Pay no mind to the man behind the curtain.

So you support the Japanese totalitarian regime and its Gulag.

Its TR talking to himself. Good god.

No, it is not. Mr. Alves is probably a Japanese shill.

This might be my introversion speaking, but I can't see solitary confinement as being much worse than regular prison life. Pretty much all the things that scare me about prison involve the other prisoners. Stick a mindfulness meditation track on in the solitary confinement area, and you've got something people would actively pay for.

But I haven't read the studies, I expect it drives some people crazy.

I'm sure it is manageable for a few days but try going months confined in a small cell with no visitors, phone calls, of course no internet, and limited to no outdoor exercise or sunlight. Solitary isn't just about limiting contact with other inmates - it's also about keeping you in an enclosed space with no contact with the outside world.

This is a good place to plug Bryan Caplan's book "Selfish Reasons to have more Kids"

Will anyone with CJPR opine on the enforcement mechanisms of solitary confinement presided over by our Tech Sector?

With "actual, real-world" social relationships being managed courtesy of intervening tech and all those philanthropic apps and nifty-keen platforms, "solitary confinement" is becoming a social norm OUTSIDE of American prisons (which might be to say: INSIDE the American prison that someone could say American society is becoming, courtesy of tech ubiquity or what can legitimately be styled as "Tech Totalitarianism").

>Solitary Confinement is Torture

No, it very obviously is not.

Can you think of one easy way tell? Bored journalists would willingly sign up for it, just so that they would have material for an article, as they did with waterboarding. Which, very obviously, is not torture either.

Waterboarding is torture, just like the organized crime practice of holding your face in the toilet. Regarding journalists, I presume you mean Hitchens' play at waterboarding. Of coarse what he experienced wasn't anything like torture because he knew they would stop the moment he signalled. Makes all the difference.

>Waterboarding is torture

No, as I explained to you above, it isn't. Please pay more attention.

If a middle-aged journo signs up for it to advance his career, it isn't torture.

It's not torture. Is it exercise? A diet? Entertainment?

Why do they do it?

Entertainment for LGBTS&M. Why do you hate diversity?

Then why bother doing it to terrorists?

We need to bring back penal colonies.

I think this is a good idea, but Australia and Guyana are full.

Like I said, we used to just execute or exile them. In a libertarian regime that is surely what would happen. Nobody is going to pay to house, feed and medicate criminals in a prison. Libertarianism means some brutal choices, which is probably why the libertarians who didn't go alt-right are all meandering over to neo-liberalism.

We need to bring back solitary confinement with a text messaging device.

Maybe having to live in close quarters with a psychopath is torture for the other prisoners.

State incarceration is a major part of the American culture, something everyone hears about and is prominently displayed as a deterrent to crime. Perhaps the best possible improvement to this institution would be an improvement to the people that administer it, corrections officers and administrators. According to there are about one-half million individuals employed as corrections officers in the US, According to Occupational Outlook Handbook there are134,800 librarians in the country. It seems that unlike librarians, who generally need a master's degree to organize books on shelves, corrections officers aren't required to have much of any education at all.

Specialized training has been a feature of US secondary education for years. Typing, home economics, industrial arts, etc. have been used to prepare students for later gainful employment. In view of the large number of corrections officers required to warehouse miscreants it only makes sense to present a corrections education option to high school students. Labs, like chemistry labs, for instance, could be built to resemble prisons and corrections students could operate these educational penitentiaries with misbehaving students as prisoners. The former group would learn the mechanics of incarceration while the latter would learn both the consequences of anti-social behavior and how to successfully adapt to incarceration. This should bring down the numbers of inmates in solitary confinement.

Educational options are always a good thing. While some people might be born to be prison guards, just as musicians need musical training and experience, so too do these nascent prison guards need guidance at the earliest possible age. Parents would be excited to know that their children would be able to assume leadership roles in the community with occupations that pay well and have good benefits and retirement. Corrections officer training should be a part of any large high school cirriculum.

Maybe in tandem with this we can identify the brightest schoolgirls at a young age and train them in child development and pedagogy for the satisfying and important work of caring for other people's children in the "high-quality" universal pre-K whose hypoethetical existence dominates the cultural discussion; all while assuring the other, lesser girls that their talents ought not be squandered in raising their own children.

There are prisoners who are a physical danger to other prisoners, prisoners who are conniving sociopaths, and prisoners who are physically vulnerable to other prisoners; those are the groups who end up in solitary. In other words, there are substantial numbers of prisoners who are walking lawsuits and expensive by virtue of existing. We used to just kill or exile them.

There's an argument that prison should be abolished and all punishment should be corporal, capital or financial. But I doubt we're ready to inflict 40 or even 10 lashes on people and there's a 15-year backlog of habeas petitions.

I've got no answers. I hope Tyler isn't psyching himself up for war with Japan on behalf of Lebanese multi-millionaires everywhere.

"I hope Tyler isn't psyching himself up for war with Japan on behalf of Lebanese multi-millionaires everywhere."

Funny how we care so much about human rights in Cuba and Iran, but readily dismiss Brazilian-Lebanese hard-working entrepreneurs as subhuman.

All Brazilians are subhuman, everyone knows that.

It is not true. Actually, Brazilians are orety good, and Brazil is a xlose ally of ours.


if it was up to me, i would prefer SC. Any seperation between me and these poor misunderstood angels is a plus in my book.

solitary imprisonment, a form of torture in my view,

You're not a serious person.

And you come back with this? Is everything ok, Art?

If you want a communitarian prison system, then follow Japan's model (mentioned yesterday). But that's not acceptable to the soft-on-criminals, hard-on-victims crowd either.

Congratulations professor Tabarrok:

This guy was released without paying bail.

If you're capitalist and libertarian, doesn't bail work as putting full compensation to the victim(s) in escrow, while you are able to continue productive work until your guilt or innocence is proven? Why are you rejecting this model? Why not refer to the constitution, and the right to a speedy trial, which has more merit?

That's not the purpose of bail - it is to ensure the defendant shows up in court. Low income people usually rely on bail agents to post bail for them by paying 10% of the bail amount. This makes it impractical to consider bail as a way to hold potential restitution payments in escrow.

I glanced at that article and am not sure you even got the story right. It says he was freed because prosecutors decided not to arraign him right away. And they decided not to arraign him because they want to build a case first and prepare themselves for the 15-day limit between the time a defendant is arraigned and when prosecutors must turn over all evidence to the defense. Bail isn't even the main issue.

I don't know if New York's laws on discovery are a good idea but they are well-grounded in the constitution: a suspect must be brought before a court, notified of formal charges and then get the opportunity to examine the evidence. Since prosecutors were not prepared to start this process, the suspect went free in accordance with the constitution you reference above.

Solitary confinement is bad, but there are many possible bad things that may happen in prison.

I would like to know how or whether the level of violence/disorder/gangs/assaults has changed over the same period.

Australia is an English speaking nation where European settlement began as a penal colony. While our incarceration rate is considerably higher than nearly all developed countries, it is still only one fifth the incarceration rate of the United States. Our homocide rate is also one fifth that of the US.

Australia also has solitary confinement. Apparently less than 2% of the prison population is in it, but that still represents a lot of people and so the cost to society, and of course the people in solitary, is quite high.

People have come out of solitary with atrophied muscles and social skills deficits and many other problems. One person confined himself to his bathroom after release from prison as he found the world outside his "cell" too chaotic to process. Obviously many find it difficult get get work after release and so solitary confinement adds to welfare costs.

Low capital costs and high wage costs means there is an incentive to increase solitary confinement. It becomes cheaper to lock prisoners in single occupancy cells and leave them there for increasing periods of time. Prisoners could receive some social interaction electronically and this should be a bare minimum. Even just having access to passive television appears to have considerable benefits.

I am willing to be persuaded that solitary is torture, but if you're going to waste everyone's time by showcasing a study which simply doesn't address the issue, then why stop with that (spurious) claim? Why shouldn't arrest be torture too? Or laws? In fact, any constraint on my behavior is, by definition, "torture". Prove me wrong. With the penal systems in the USA overflowing (literally), and John Q. Public unwilling to pay for the necessary infrastructure, it's hardly surprising that solitary is used extensively. The cost per prisoner ought to be quite low if the highlight of their day is the overhead lights turn off or on. There are many people who have served time for felonies and who later contributed to society. But on average do they? I'm dubious.

Generally those who have met the human do not need to be persuaded that they find solitary confinement torturous.

Also, you may benefit from the human dictionaries. Here is one of their definitions of torture:

"Torture (from Latin tortus: to twist, to torment) is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological suffering on someone by another as a punishment or in order to fulfill some desire of the torturer or force some action from the victim. Torture, by definition, is a knowing and intentional act; deeds which unknowingly or negligently inflict suffering or pain, without a specific intent to do so, are not typically considered torture."

John Q. Public unwilling to pay for the necessary infrastructure

John Q. Public's willingness to pay for anything government deems necessary is of no importance. John isn't able to direct his taxes to the expenses he sees fit and ignore those he finds unworthy.

if anyone wants more opinion we have written today following ProfAlex's comments. from an economist and market commentator that has served time, frightening and terrible but he survived and writes daily. MR was one of the things that kept him sane. Thank you again.

Alex, yesterday I took a grandson to see

Walter Beckett reminded me of people like you and Caplan. Yes, like WB, you should try hard to find "more peaceful ways of handling villainy". In the meantime, however, we have no choice but to be effective in containing villainy. As Gordon Tullock used to say about the death penalty, at least it dissuades one villain.

Alex, when I told my grandson about my comment to your post, he argued that the protective gadget invented by WB to trap the villain was a bubble similar to that used by The Bubble Boy hit by George Constanza and that it was a form of solitary confinement.

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