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New Limitations on Solitary Confinement

Earlier this year, President Obama banned federal prisons from holding juveniles in solitary confinement, citing the often devastating psychological consequences that result from solitary confinement. The usage of solitary confinement in prisons has been "linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior." Along with banning the usage of solitary confinement for juveniles, President Obama also created new rules limiting the usage of solitary confinement on adults. For example, prisoners can no longer be punished with solitary confinement for a low-level infraction. Prisoners, upon their first infraction meriting solitary confinement, may only be placed in solitary confinement for 60 days, instead of 365, the former maximum.

A prisoner in solitary confinement spends 23 hours each day in a cell approximately eighty square feet, with 1 hour allotted for indoor exercise. Psychiatrist Stuart Gassian, following interviews with hundreds of prisoners in solitary confinement, found that these prisoners suffered "hallucinations; panic attacks; overt paranoia; diminished impulse control; hypersensitivity to external stimuli; and difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory." These psychiatric issues make those exposed to solitary confinement more likely to self-mutilate and more prone to suicide, both during and following their prison term. These issues can also make it difficult for the prisoner to control his behavior and interact socially.

While many have applauded President Obama's prison reforms and dedication to embracing rehabilitation, some backlash has arisen from the community of corrections officers tasked with ensuring the safety of prisons. This backlash largely concerns the failure to cooperate with corrections officers concerning reforms and the usage of solitary confinement as a safety measure to protect officers from dangerous prisoners or to protect prisoners at risk of violence in the general population. As to the latter, however, President Obama indicated that solitary confinement is an acceptable practice to preserve the safety of prisoners and officers, but that the practice should be limited and a practice of last resort.

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