The role of solitary confinement, and why it’s necessary

Before people decide on methods to eliminate, they must first understand the perspective of which that method was derived


Some people question why inmates are allowed to have so much stuff. In an effort to provide the public with an answer, I would first like to note that people tend to be more motivated by a loss than by a gain.

This holds true in how corrections deals with deviant behavior amongst those who are incarcerated.

To have or have not
When we are looking to punish deviance, we remove an item of value from the inmate (punishment by removal). This is done in the hopes that the inmate will want what was taken from them and, in their effort to get back what was taken, learn to comply with the rules and regulations of the institution.

Signs listing special restrictions for inmates at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Wash. are shown. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Signs listing special restrictions for inmates at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Wash. are shown. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

When an inmate gets a charge for not following the rules, their punishment can consist of loss of recreational privileges, loss of contact visits, loss of commutation time, loss of TV, etc. This loss is not taken lightly because the inmate has already grown accustomed to what they have. When they are faced with the possibility of a loss of something that was previously granted to them, they compare the situation that they are in (having) to the situation that they could face (have not) and, with that comparison in mind, they may choose to act accordingly.

Again, this is how correctional staff maintains their sense of authority. If inmates were not granted anything, what would correctional staff have at their disposal that would help them maintain control?

How this applies to segregation
Solitary confinement can be viewed as an extreme loss of granted items in which all efforts to maintain control through normal procedures have failed. In order to maintain safety, correctional staff now has to enter the extreme and start from scratch by removing all granted items and having the inmate transition themselves to a position where they can slowly regain what was taken. Again, from the outside people may see this as barbaric, but this is a method that is used when all else fails. It is still founded on our ability to maintain control and order by taking away what was granted from inmates when their behavior becomes extreme and volatile.

Now, let's explore why this method works. As mentioned above, people are more motivated by a loss than a gain. Reason being, when someone has an item, and it has been removed, they have a concrete reference to compare what life would be like without said item. On the flip side, with a gain, there is no concrete evidence to compare, and, therefore, since the person has lived without, they can easily continue to do so. So punishment by removal has been utilized by corrections as a way to motivate compliance in a manner that is humane and decent.

There has been effort from the outside to circumvent this process by eliminating certain methods that can be employed to punish deviance, which brings us back to solitary confinement. Solitary confinement, in essence, is the removal of an inmate from general population so control and order can be maintained.

Cruel and unusual punishment?
People that argue against this process have a twisted understanding as to what solitary confinement means. Solitary confinement is by definition a punishment by removal. The inmate has been removed from general population along with all the privileges they are granted, and placed into an area where said privileges have to be earned back (transitional).

During this process, the mental and physical wellbeing of the inmate is constantly monitored. This is an extreme measure that only gets employed when the safety and security of others are at risk. During their time in solitary confinement, an inmate, through good behavior, can earn some of their privileges back. This process may take time, but is fundamental for the transitional process an inmate must go through before being allowed back into general population.

For some, solitary confinement can be seen as strictly punishment, but for those in the system, this method can be seen as corrective. In essence, solitary confinement helps correctional staff transition those who are problematic back into general population in a manner that maintains safety and security.

Tying our hands
For those who work in corrections, we need to maintain order in a world that wants to be chaotic. The means with which we can employ are severely limited. When we are attacked by those on the outside, who remain unaware of the world on the inside, we begin to see our hands being tied.

Those in corrections try to justify their methods, but most choose not to hear what those with the proper experience have to say. Over time, correctional staff has discovered that the threat of loss has power.

In closing, before people decide on methods to eliminate, they must first understand the perspective of which that method was derived. Then, once they get an understanding of that perspective, they can either relate to why that method is employed, or come up with an alternative that actually has value.

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