Is Solitary Confinement Torture? New Report From UNC School Of Law

Nov 20, 2014

Long-term solitary confinement is a cruel, inhumane and degrading form of punishment, according to a new report from The University of North Carolina School of Law.


The 225-page report, Solitary Confinement as Torture,  identifies torture as the infliction of severe pain- physical  or psychological- for the purposes of punishing an individual for something they have done or are accused of doing. Lead author Deborah Weissman told The State of Things host Frank Stasio that solitary confinement is a form of punishment "beyond the bounds of human decency."

It's a form of punishment "beyond the bounds of human decency." - lead author of Solitary Confinement as Torture, Deborah Weissman

Students who worked on this report went to prisons and spoke with prisoners who had been in solitary confinement. They listened to narratives from other sources, listened to what experts had to say on the issue and looked for other alternatives.

Confinement for an excess of 15 days constitutes torture and conflicts with the Eighth Amendment, Weissman says.

But Butner Federal Correctional Complex former warden Art Beeler says solitary confinement is necessary in some instances. "It's those people that are so extraordinarily violent that you don't have places to put them," he says. "And its those persons that are so liable to be victimized that if you placed them in general population you're setting yourself up, as a warden, for not only the liability but the issues."

According to Weissman,  conditions of solitary confinement across the nation are "generally the same, they are terrible dehumanizing conditions." States like Colorado and New York are looking to reform solitary confinement and find other alternatives.

Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association Terry Kupers says the effects of solitary confinement may last beyond incarceration. "Besides the psychiatric symptoms they experience while in isolation... they also, then are permanently damaged so that when they get out of prison, they're incapable of quality intimate relationships, working, etc. And this I call the decimation of life skills."

The Story's Dick Gordon interviewed Brian Nelson who spent 12 straight years in solitary confinement at a supermax prison in Illinois in episode called "After Solitary." He described the experience.