Here are three questions for corrections officers who say they cannot run their prisons without the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary tool:
- If solitary confinement is so effective, why do you have to use it so often?
- Why would you use the same punishment for a prisoner who attacks a guard, and one who has an expired tube of toothpaste or too many postage stamps?
- If you use solitary confinement to punish disorderly behavior, restore obedient conduct, and deter future misbehavior, why do you put prisoners in solitary cells indefinitely, so they never know when they will come out?
These questions do not have good answers, because in fact corrections officers use solitary confinement not to restore good conduct for prisoners who are especially disobedient. They simply use it whenever they like, for all sorts of reasons. The punishment shows their power, and it is easy to impose. It has become routine.
About 80,000 prisoners currently live in solitary cells. Some of them have been there for years.