More generally, according to some 2015 Department of Justice report, about 20 percent of the adult prison population has spent some time in solitary, with 4.4 percent of the population in solitary on any given day in 2011-12. And in Florida, where I was jobless, approximately 10,000 individuals — over 10 percent of its prison population — have been in solitary confinement every day.
Regardless of the count, I witnessed too many people lose their minds while isolated. They’d involuntarily cross a line and never return to sanity. Perhaps they didn’t want to. Remaining in their mind was the better, safer, more humane choice.
After spending nearly two years in solitary confinement as a teenager at Rikers Island in New York City without being convicted of a crime, Kalief Browder died by suicide in 22 years old. Others, like Carina Montes, 29, died by suicide during solitary — even while she was on suicide watch.
Solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment, something prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, yet prisons continue to practice it.
Reform attempts for solitary confinement are woefully few and far between. About 15 years ago, I testified for the plaintiffs at Osterback v. Moore, a class-action lawsuit that sought to reform Florida’s solitary confinement system. Though a settlement in the case resulted in small improvements, including a reduction of inmates held in solitary and an increase in mental health treatment, more meaningful reform is required.
And it’s possible : State legislatures can pass laws reforming solitary confinement, as New York recently did. (The bill awaits a signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.) And mayors and governors can do their part to end the practice through executive actions. Mayor Bill de Blasio, by way of instance, recently moved to end solitary confinement in New York City jails.
When it comes to kids, elimination is the only moral option. And if finishing solitary confinement for adults isn’t politically viable, public officials should at least limit the length of confinement to 15 times or fewer, according to the U.N. standards.