The Psychological Damage of Solitary Confinement

“When I testify in court, I am often asked: ‘What is the damage of long-term solitary confinement?’ . . . Many prisoners emerge from prison after years in solitary with very serious psychiatric symptoms even though outwardly they may appear emotionally stable. The damage from isolation is dreadfully real.”
—Terry Allen Kupers, author of Solitary: The Inside Story of Supermax Isolation and How We Can Abolish It

For World Mental Health Day, we recognize the prisoners who serve time in solitary confinement. When people discuss mass incarceration, the mental and emotional health of prisoners may not always be at the forefront of discussions. #MentalHealthDay

Terry Allen Kupers, one of the nation’s foremost experts on the mental health effects of solitary confinement, shares his role in exposing the effects of solitary confinement on incarcerated people. In a recent interview with Colorlines, Kupers says, “I testify about inhumane and unconstitutional conditions of confinement… After I have done my investigation, the county or state’s attorneys depose me under oath. Some large class actions are settled at that point. Some go to trial, and then I testify in court as a psychiatric expert. After I describe unconstitutional and abusive conditions and practices, I am asked what remedies I would recommend, and that’s when I have an opportunity to share with the judge or jury the proven effective alternatives to prison crowding and solitary confinement.”

On Rising Up with Sonali, Kupers describes the detrimental impact of solitary confinement on the human brain. Kupers notes that isolation “very much damages brain structure and lays down pathways that cause dysfunction.” And for those incarcerated people with existing mental illness, “isolation exacerbates their mental illness, makes their prognosis much worse, makes their disability greater, and in the end, they get out of prison unable to function in the community.”

Read an excerpt of Solitary. And share your thoughts below in the comments section on the mental well-being of incarcerated people in solitary confinement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *