Solitary confinement is, in my judgment, cruel and unusual punishment. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stipulates that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” And yet, solitary confinement is used broadly throughout the U.S.
The nature and barbarity of solitary confinement was brought forcefully to my attention as I read for review Pete Earley’s No Human Contact: Solitary Confinement, Maximum Security, and Two Inmates Who Changed the System (Citadel Press, 2023). The book describes at length the suffering of two solitary confinement inmates, Thomas Silverstein and Clayton Fountain—Silverstein spent 36 years in an isolation cell; Fountain was in solitary confinement nearly 21 years. When the review is published, I’ll alert readers.
The continued use of solitary confinement is symptomatic of the U.S.’s failure to join the civilized world. Other modern nations do not imprison people at rates anything like the U.S. As of January 2023, the incarceration rate of the United States is the sixth highest in the world, at 505 per 100,000 people, much higher than any other modern western nation. While the United States represents about 4.2 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 20 percent of the world’s prisoners.
As a nation, we must face out flaws and find ways to correct them. Let’s work together to reform our penal system and, among other things, cease solitary confinement.