They say it is for public safety, they say they are doing the best they can, they say there is no alternative, they say we don’t know enough to do better.
      This is how they (those with the power to make change) respond to questions about why the solution to “bad behavior” by people who are being punished by losing their freedom is to remove even more freedom by placing them in solitary confinement. We persist and provide information, solitary confinement causes or exacerbates mental illness, it is costly much more costly than leaving prisoners in general population, it renders people ill prepared for eventual release (over 90% of prisoners will eventually be released). The answer is the same – it is for public safety, what else can they do? The declared value is public safety but the operational value is something much different. Solitary confinement is used as threat to maintain control and discourage rebellion; an added benefit is the need for additional correctional officers to oversee those placed in solitary confinement.
    Many claim that solitary confinement is designed to ensure social control and that it does exactly what it is intended to do.
    An alternative strategy, designed to actually address the problem, might involve a short period of “mitigation”, placing the badly behaving person in isolation for several hours while investigating exactly what happened to elicit bad behavior and then, after the person was less emotional, asking what had happened and how the badly behaving person thought that the problem might be resolved. Intervention could be based on the incident and its precursors. A “solution” could be both micro (the individual situation) and possibly macro (consideration about the ways in which facility practices might be modified to reduce the likelihood of repetition).
   Such an approach would be designed to make declared and operational values consistent with each other.

 

Marilyn Montenegro PhD, MSW was inducted into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction in 2014, and was the recipient of NASW’s 2002 Social Worker of the Year Award for her outstanding work, including working to protect prisoners from abuse and inhumane conditions. As founder and coordinator of the Prison Project, Women’s Council of NASW-CA, she provides consultation and supervises students in programs serving women leaving prison. http://www.naswdc.org/pressroom/2002/081302.asp
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