Not even 2 months ago, a transgender woman by the name of Layleen Polanco was found dead, cold, and alone in her solitary cell on Rikers island. She was being held in the female corrections center, which only recently started housing transgender women, and was found unresponsive hours after any meaningful action could have been taken. Due to departmental negligence, the attending officer failed to address her medical needs, and they were completely oblivious to her recent hospitalization. What is most horrifying, is how she was only being temporarily held on a petty charge for $500 bail, less than the cost of a single class here at CCNY. This was one of many unnecessary deaths by the hands of a faulty prison system and its inhumane practices. We hope that Layleen can be the last testament to the necessity of prison reform, and particularly the abolishment of solitary confinement.
There are 2.3 million prisoners in America, more than Russia and China’s prison population combined. America has the highest national rate of prisoners per capita, and over 100,000 of these prisoners are held in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is when an inmate is held in complete daily isolation, with their only interactions being for food. The cells are not wide enough to spread your arms, and you are not allowed to do anything but think. Inmates are held on average for around a month in these modernized torture chambers. Prolonged inmate sentences can last upwards of 6-months to a year, with extreme cases going into decades of total isolation.
The psychological effects of these conditions seem obvious, yet it is still a contentious point in modern research. Much of the research that condones the use of solitary confinement focuses on its benefit for the prison system, and how it helps to manage difficult prisoners in an ever-increasing prison population. Yet the research that condemns the practice focuses on the inmates themselves, and their experience with what they describe as torture. In fact, the likelihood of a young or gang affiliated inmate to repeat criminal misconduct increases with each additional day in solitary. This is explained by prisoner interviews who describe solitary confinement as ‘maddening,’ and often seek out psychiatric relief afterwards. Solitary confinement has been linked to the development of psychological disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and dissociative fugue.
Privatized organizations that own the majority of prisons across America have recognized the monetary benefit of solitary, and have thus geared there attention towards this practice. These ‘SuperMax,’ prisons are only single-cell containments, and have begun their spread into mainstream practice. As of now there is currently at least one SuperMax prison in over 40 states across the nation, and they are spreading rapidly.
Although, countermeasures have been taken up by organizations such as the U.N. Convention Against Torture, who aim to expose these torturous conditions. Therefore, it is our duty as young college students to spread the awareness of this issue onto the next generation, so that these injustices do not remain unspoken. It is your duty as the next generation of voters to support the senators and policymakers who address solitary confinement for what it really is, and take a stand against this cruel and unusual torture.
Karma Allen, published Jun 11, 2019, accessed Jun 26th 2019, https://abcnews.go.com/US/family-demands-answers-wake-transgender-inmates-death-rikers/story?id=63621456
Sadie Honey, published Feb 14, 2018, accessed Jun 26th 2019, https://www.afsc.org/resource/solitary-confinement-facts