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Senate committee asks if solitary confinement is cruel punishment

Anyone who has been charged with a crime has likely thought about what would happen if they are found guilty. For some, it may just be a fine or a few days in jail. For others, it could be years or the rest of their lives in a Maryland prison. Though it may not always seem like it, there are protections available to everyone who has been found guilty of a crime, primarily the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

For some of the most violent offenders, including those convicted on murder charges, they run the risk of being put in solitary confinement. Some individuals with the corrections field are reluctant to call it solitary confinement, insisting that a prisoner has access to prison officials and, occasionally, non-contact visits with family members. It is still true, however, that they have virtually no interactions with other prisoners. Now, a group of United States Senators have decided to hear testimony on whether the process is a violation of an individual's Eighth Amendment rights.

One of the individuals at the hearing gave powerful testimony about the psychological effects of solitary confinement. He had previously been in prison but was subsequently exonerated. During his wrongful imprisonment, however, he had been put in solitary confinement at least once. He testified to the deterioration of inmates' mental health, including talking to themselves, paranoia, self-mutilation and insomnia.

The wrongfully convicted former inmate challenged those who were unsure of solitary confinement's effects to try it themselves.

Source: Southern California Public Radio, "Is solitary confinement cruel and unusual? The US Senate hears testimony on the issue for the first time," Rina Palta, June 19, 2012

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As Published in Washingtonian Magazine | Washington's Best Legal Minds | 2013