The Psychology of Cruelty: Recognizing Grave Mental Harm in American Prisons
"Over the past forty years, American prisons have increasingly relied on a brutal method of confinement that inflicts sever suffering on prisoners. Inmates confined in this manner have endured symptoms ranging from hallucinations and perceptual distortions to self-mutilation and suicidal ideation. Walking past these inmates, one can observe babbling, shrieking, and the banging of prisoners' bodies against the walls of their cells. There is no dispute that this method of confinement has a terrible effect on prisoners' well-being, and yet because it inflicts mental harm, rather than physical harm, courts have largely turned a blind eye.
Solitary confinement - the confinement of a prisoner in isolation with limited chance for social interaction or environmental stimulus - has existed in America for centuries, but until the late twentieth century, it was rarely used. In the 1970s and 1980s, the use of solitary confinement began to expand, as prisons started to employ it not only for discipline and safety, but also, in America's supermax prisons, as a method of long-term imprisonment. Supermax prisons - prisons that house inmates in perpetual conditions of solitary confinement - have continued to spread across the country since the first one opened in 1983. Today, about forty states have at least one supermax prison, and nearly sixty total facilities are in operation around the country. Though estimates vary, most conclude that about 25,000 inmates are currently incarcerated in supermax facilities, with another 55,000 in solitary confinement outside the supermax setting."