Climbing Out of the Hole

Do you remember where you were standing at this moment five years ago? Ten years? Twenty? Seventy-eight men in Northern California do.

They have been held in solitary confinement for at least 20 years, each in his own 8-by-10-foot windowless cell at the Pelican Bay supermax prison, with about a thousand others — half of whom have been there for more than a decade. They are allowed only about an hour of “recreation” each day, often in shackles, in a cement enclosure not much larger than their cell. 

Even among inmates accustomed to severe across-the-board restrictions of their liberties, there is a breaking point. This month, as many as 30,000 prisoners in California, most of whom are not in solitary confinement, went on hunger strikes to protest its mass use. 

In truth, that breaking point was passed long ago. Every day, it seems, there is another news story, psychological study or official report demonstrating the severe damage caused by long-term solitary confinement. 

Read on...

This is a NYTimes editorial.  Tom

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