I was just reading this editorial from the LA Times. It describes the conditions in which Pfc. Bradley Manning is facing during his detention. For those who don’t know him, Bradley Manning is the person suspected of providing classified documents to Wikileaks.
Nevertheless, Manning is in “maximum custody.” Also, under a “Protection of Injury” order, he is confined to his cell for 23 hours a day, even though his lawyer says a psychologist has determined he isn’t a threat to himself. His lawyer also says that Manning is denied sheets and is unable to exercise in his cell, and that he is not allowed to sleep between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. If he attempts to sleep during those hours, he is made to sit up or stand by his guards.
Let’s take a closer look at the issue of solitary confinement since Mr. Manning is spending 23 hours out of the day in isolation. Scott Allen from Brown University describes with Live Science here the “typical protocols” involved with solitary confinement. They include “23 hours’ lockdown in a very small cell with limited natural light and no outside exposure except for an hour a day, usually in a cage” and “extreme isolation” that “also involves some level of sensory deprivation.”
Dr. Allen, along with his colleagues also published a paper about the effects of solitary confinement. Here are their results:
Solitary confinement causes psychological harm consistent with torture. In order to be legally classified as torture, however, the intent must be proven. For cases such as Manning’s, intent is not obvious, Allen said. Instead, this is typically referred to as cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, he said.
While the intent may not be obvious, subjecting someone to “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment” is a violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Dr. Atul Gawande also spoke of the effects of solitary confinement when he spoke to Democracy Now! here.
Dr. Gawande reported that “people experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture” citing John McCain as example:
John McCain had two-and-a-half years in solitary confinement, had his legs and arm broken during his imprisonment, but described the two-and-a-half years that he spent in solitary as being the most cruel component and the most terrifying aspect of what he went under.
The people who become psychotic in solitary confinement are people who often have attention deficit disorder or low IQ or issues of prior mental illness. Well, guess who is in our prisons? And there’s a very high rate of psychosis and people flat-out going crazy under the confinement conditions. And so, then what I puzzle over is, does it actually reduce our violence in our prisons? The evidence from multiple studies now is that not only that it has not reduced violence, it’s increased the costs of being in prison.
Keeping someone in total isolation for most of the day–regardless of the crime–seems like a brutal and harsh form of punishment, considering the effects and damage it can have on an individual.