What's the Latest Development?
The practice of solitary confinement is widespread in the American prison system, stripping those who experience it of their basic humanity, says Lisa Guenther, a philosophy professor at Vanderbilt University. This summer, Guenther testified before the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights—the first Congressional hearing ever held on solitary confinement. She argued that "deprived of everyday encounters with other people, and cut off from an open-ended experience of the world as a place of difference and change, many inmates lose touch with reality."
What's the Big Idea?
While we imagine that solitary confinement is reserved for the worst of the worst, there were more than 81,000 inmates completely excluded from any human interaction in 2005, according to Bureau of Justice statistics. Solitary confinement is a form of emotional torture, says Guenther, that robs inmates of their very identity. The practice is also antithetical the goals of the justice system: "When we isolate a prisoner in solitary confinement, we deprive them of both the support of others, which is crucial for a coherent experience of the world, and also the critical challenge that others pose to our own interpretation of the world."
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