September 12, 2016

Solitary confinement drives mental illness

Solitary Watch -  Locked Up and Locked Down: Segregation of Inmates with Mental Illness, released by Disability Rights Washington, details the widespread practice of housing men, women, and children with mental illness in solitary confinement. The report shows that prisons and jails routinely subject people with mental illness to conditions that dramatically exacerbate their condition, often to the point of suicide.

Disabled Behind Bars notes, for example, that deaf individuals are “among those most likely to be held in solitary”, often in place of treatment or necessary accommodations. It also notes the tragic story of Kalief Browder, a teenager who was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack and was subject to two years in solitary confinement, a punishment condemned by the UN torture expert as torture and under which Browder made numerous suicide attempts. Ultimately, he committed suicide six months after his case was dismissed and he was released from Rikers Island.

As the report details, and has been widely proven, solitary confinement is especially devastating for people with mental illness. As traumatic as the experience is for individuals without unique mental healthcare needs, solitary confinement compounds and exacerbates the effects of mental illness. In solitary housing, treatment and other forms of much-needed mental health interventions “such as therapy and structured activities” are routinely denied to individuals, who have limited time outside their confined space, if any, and have only psychotropic medication available to them. The report cites the vast and growing body of scientific evidence that highlights the dangers of housing people with mental illness in solitary confinement, including reports from those held in isolation of sensory and sleep deprivation, “psychiatric decompensations, hallucinations, and behaviors relating to self-harm.” Many others have committed suicide.

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