What are the Health Effects of Cell Imprisonment?

Solitary confinement is a system of punishment that is widely used in prisons around the world. Cell confinement involves physical isolation, meaning the person has minimal interaction with other people. This article provides information on the effects of solitary confinement on general and mental health and some criticisms of its practice.

What is Cell Imprisonment?

Solitary confinement can have significant negative effects on mental health. Solitary confinement is the physical isolation of people who stay in their cells for 22.5 hours or more a day. People in solitary confinement have limited or no opportunities to interact with others. They have limited access to stimuli such as eating, sleeping, toileting and educational materials in the same area. Solitary confinement cells do not always have windows. The length of time a person spends in solitary confinement varies greatly. Some people may spend hours or days in jail, while others spend weeks, months or even years. In extreme cases, he can remain in solitary confinement for decades. For example, in 2016 Albert Woodfox re-entered society after spending more than 40 years in isolation.

Mental Health Effects

Numerous studies show that solitary confinement causes adverse psychological effects and increases the risk of serious harm to those who experience it. Isolation can be as upsetting as physical torture, according to an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. In the research report presented in the previous year, it was determined that approximately 25% of the prisoners in BJS prison who were in solitary confinement for 30 days or more experienced serious psychological problems. Rates were similar for those who only spent 1 day in isolation. People need social contact, and over time, the stress of being isolated can cause a range of mental health problems. These mental health problems are as follows:

• Anxiety and stress

• Depression and hopelessness

• Anger, irritability and hostility

• Panic attacks

• Pre-existing mental health problems worsening

• Hypersensitivity to sounds and smells

• Problems with attention, memory and concentration

• Hallucinations that affect all the senses

• Paranoia

• Poor impulse control

• Social withdrawal

• Outbursts of violence

• Psychosis

• The fear of death

• Self-harm or suicide

Studies have found that those who live alone or feel loneliness at a high level have a strong relationship with suicide attempt and suicidal ideation. In addition, many people who experience incarceration become unable to live with others.

Physical Health Effects of Cell Imprisonment

Most studies focus on the psychological effects of solitary confinement. However, psychological trauma and loneliness also cause physical health problems. Studies show that social isolation increases the likelihood of death by 26-32%. There are recorded physical health effects of solitary confinement, including:

  • Chronic headaches
  • Defect of vision
  • Digestive problems
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Genitourinary problems
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hypersensitivity to light and noise
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Trembling hands
  • Weight loss

Lack of physical activity also makes certain health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease difficult to manage or prevent. Vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of bone fracture, as it can cause prolonged lack of sunlight. These injuries are among the leading causes of hospitalization and deaths.

Why Do Prisons Use Cell Imprisonment?

An article from the Federal Probation criminal justice journal describes three types of solitary confinement used by US prisons, and they are as follows:

• Disciplinary segregation: The use of solitary confinement to punish a person for violating prison rules.

• Temporary segregation: Immediate isolation of the person from the general prison population due to a crisis such as a physical dispute.

• Administrative segregation: Isolation of the person who poses a constant threat to the safety and security of other imprisoned persons, staff or visitors.

A 2016 United Nations (UN) report found that most countries using solitary confinement do so as a form of punishment. However, the acts punished by prisons and prisons with isolation differ significantly from place to place. While countries like Germany only use isolation for serious acts of violence, many countries and some US states use isolation as punishment for minor crimes. Sometimes prisons and prisons also use solitary confinement to detain people who are not safe in other areas of the institution. Some researchers suggest that people in protective custody prefer solitary confinement to general prison population shelter because it is safer. However, they still experience the negative effects of isolation.

Criticism on Cell Imprisonment

The practice of putting prisoners in solitary confinement has come under harsh criticism from many organizations and individuals. The UN’s Mandela Rules provide guidance on the treatment of incarcerated persons worldwide. These rules prohibit the use of indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement for more than 15 days, recommending that prisons use it only as a last resort. It also prohibits isolation for disabled people. However, not every state in the USA follows these rules. The 2015 report found that 85% of people incarcerated in Illinois in 2014 who lived in isolation did so for minor crimes, such as using abusive language. Overall, the criminal justice system in the US uses solitary confinement more widely and for a longer period of time than in other countries. On a given day, up to 80,000 people are in isolation in state or federal prisons. This figure does not include those in solitary confinement in prisons and juvenile detention centers. It belongs to the National Corrective Health Commission, where those working in the prison health profession approve the Mandela rules. The American Public Health Association also recommends limiting the use of solitary confinement. Some chapters provide more detailed information on criticisms of solitary confinement, as follows:

Effectiveness and Cost of Cell Imprisonment

Some studies of solitary confinement:

• Not cost effective

• Did not achieve the intended results

• worsening the problems he wants to solve

Solitary confinement units are significantly more expensive than other types of prison housing, both in terms of construction and operation. It also causes them to become more severe and unpredictable due to the effect of isolation on humans. Such behavioral changes increase the number or intensity of attacks on staff and other incarcerated persons. It also increases the likelihood that a person will engage in illegal behavior or experience adaptation problems related to isolation when they re-enter society.

Systemic Racism

People of color are overrepresented in solitary confinement, according to a 2018 analysis by the State Correction Managers Association and Yale Law School. The authors report that blacks make up a higher percentage of those in isolation than those living in the general prison population. The same is true for Hispanic men. In contrast, white people, both male and female, are underrepresented compared to the general prison population.

Mental Illness

In a growing number of states, it is illegal to keep people with mental illness in solitary confinement. However, the American Psychological Association reported that people with impaired mental health are still disproportionately represented in solitary confinement. Because isolation often worsens mental health conditions, this also makes it difficult to care for people and makes them less likely to adapt when they re-enter society.

People who experience solitary confinement are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and psychosis. In addition, the practice affects physical health and increases a person’s risk for a range of conditions, including fractures, vision loss, and chronic pain. The US uses solitary confinement more than some countries, and this practice disproportionately affects Black, Hispanic people and those with mental health problems. Solitary confinement has been severely criticized by organizations around the world for the damage it causes.


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