Stay the *%$! at Home!!
Solitary Confinement as a Choice, Not a Punishment
For a couple of weeks now, I have been pondering the concept of solitary confinement. Since I am studying to become a lawyer/scientist, and not merely a criminal defense lawyer, I have done some research.
I found one article fascinating:
“The effects of solitary confinement have been debated since at least the middle of the nineteenth century when both Americans and Europeans began to question the then-widespread use of solitary confinement of convicted offenders. A sizable and impressively sophisticated literature, now largely forgotten, accumulated for more than a half century and documented significant damage to prisoners. More recently the development of Supermax prisons in the United States and human rights objections to pretrial solitary confinement in Scandinavia revived interest in the topic and controversy over the findings. The weight of the modern evidence concurs with the findings of earlier research: whether and how isolation damages people depends on duration and circumstances and is mediated by prisoners’ individual characteristics; but for many prisoners, the adverse effects are substantial.”
The Effects of Solitary Confinement on Prison Inmates: A Brief History and Review of the Literature, Peter Scharff Smith, Crime and Justice , Vol. 34, No. 1 (2006), pp. 441-528.
Don’t get me wrong. Strictly speaking, I am not solitary. I have Max, my black lab/pit bull mix. Nor I am I confined. I visit the grocery for supplies. I visit the cemetery to talk with my Dad. When I hope no one is looking, I even sneak in a visit to my Fort Pierce law office.
Since my divorce six years ago, I have also learned that there is a difference between loneliness and solitude. It is rare for me to feel lonely. I am comfortable in my own skin, and I have learned to enjoy solitude. In moderate doses, of course.
Some say the practice of solitary confinement as punishment dates all the back to the monasteries of the Middle Ages. Most scholars agree that the practice became more commonplace in the middle of the Nineteenth Century. Phased out by the beginning of the Twentieth Century in most places, the practice saw a resurgence in the 1950’s in America.
Nowadays we still see it is most American prison systems as a means to maintain order, either as an additional disciplinary punishment for violation of prison rules or as ad administrative measure for those inmates who are viewed as especially dangerous, to themselves or others, or escape risks. In some places, convicted sex offenders have the option of choosing solitary confinement to avoid harassment from other prisoners.
Certainly, we must recognize that “shelter at home” decrees are not intended to be, and legally speaking are not, punishments. They just feel that way. As I strive to more fully comply with self isolation recommendations from scientists I respect and politicians I don’t, I will keep an eye on the effects this sort of solitary confinement has on me. I will report to you on any interesting developments.
Of course, my staff and I will work to get more comfortable with video-conferencing, so that we can quickly inform our clients of scheduling changes. Postponements have been many. More will surely come.
I am interested in hearing your stories, too. Stay in touch, but stay safe, as best you can.