Reentry After Solitary Confinement
By Connor H. – Research Intern
While the transition for any offender is one that is full of challenges and barriers that they have to work through to be successful after being incarcerated, there is a group of inmates that have to deal with an entirely different set of challenges. This group is the offenders who have had to serve some portion of their time in solitary confinement. At any level of incarceration, solitary confinement is primarily used to punish disobedient inmates by housing them alone for 23 hours a day. There are two reasons why being in solitary confinement has a greater set of challenges than those who served time in general housing, the first is the mental effects solitary confinement has on a person the other is the deterioration of social skills. Both of these attributes are vital to an offender being successful after serving time and are greatly hindered when a person is isolated for extended amounts of time.
Continuing on, there are a couple of main psychological issues that are the direct result of a person being in total isolation. The first issue is offenders are also certainly going to have to overcome some level of anxiety and depression. Humans are social creatures and need to have interactions with others in order to fulfill a sense of purpose. When a person is not around others for extended periods of time, the person will begin to feel helpless and begin to lash out in irrational ways in order to gain attention or as a cry for help. Another issue is that inmates will become obsessive and overly controlling of minor things. One study noted how inmates will often rapidly fluctuate their weight while in isolation and will then begin to obsess over the issue but can do nothing about it (Strong, et al., Pg.9). These issues are then exacerbated when the offender is released and was given no rehabilitation for the lack of social interaction.
To go along with the psychological effects, there are social skills that are significantly reduced while in solitary confinement. A person who goes months, or even years, without a direct contact conversation, will without a doubt forget how to interact with other people. These offenders, once released, will either begin to self-isolate because they know they cannot adequately engage with another person or will lash out at others because they are angry that they are not being properly understood (Haney, Pg. 223-225). This will affect the potential jobs that offenders will be able to get after serving time and will affect other aspects of normal life that people who have never been incarcerated or isolated will find to be a simple part of a daily routine. This may include how the offender is able to go into public to shop or be a part of a social club. Offenders find extreme difficulty in daily activities that they were not subjected to for years while locked up.
- Haney, C. (2020). The Science of Solitary: Expanding the Harmfulness Narrative. Northwestern University Law Review, 115(1), 211–255.
- Strong, J. D., Reiter, K., Gonzalez, G., Tublitz, R., Augustine, D., Barragan, M., Chesnut, K., Dashtgard, P., Pifer, N., & Blair, T. R. (2020). The body in isolation: The physical health impacts of incarceration in solitary confinement. PLOS ONE, 15(10), e0238510. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0238510