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Thousands in US languish in solitary confinement: Report

10 February 2015 22:40

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A recent report by two American civil rights groups has shed light on the horrible conditions thousands of detainees face in solitary confinement in US prisons, including many who suffer from mental illness.

The report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project said the costly practice of solitary confinement permanently damages the mental health of prisoners and increases their chances of committing more crimes.

More than 6,500 prisoners in the state of Texas are languishing in solitary confinement, which is 4.4 percent of its prison population, according to the report that was released on Thursday.

Inmates spend at least 22 hours a day in total isolation for an average of four years in a 60-square-foot (5.57-square-meter), windowless cell and more than 100 prisoners have been in solitary for more than 20 years.

The report found that Texas keeps 2,012 people with mental illnesses in solitary confinement, despite the “universal consensus among mental health experts” that putting people with serious mental illness in solitary can cause them to “fall apart.”

These isolation units cost Texas taxpayers at least $46 million a year. Plus, it shows that those who experience solitary confinement are 25 percent more likely to get re-arrested.

The report does not include details about why inmates were put in solitary because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice would not provide information on inmates or policies, the ACLU said.

While the report focused on Texas, “you could virtually write the same report about every state in the country,” said Amy Fettig, a senior staff counsel with the ACLU in Washington.

States “have become addicted to solitary confinement” as a solution for dealing with the violence and disciplinary problems that arise from the overcrowding of prisons, a side effect of tough-on-crime initiatives in the 1980s, Fettig noted.

California is still “one of the biggest abusers of isolation in the country” despite several lawsuits against the state’s prison system, she said.

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