International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee


01 August 2011


It is estimated that a minimum of 20,000 prisoners in the United States are kept in solitary confinement. Experts say that number is growing.

“At what cost? Solitary units cost almost three times more to build. Housing prisoners in solitary often costs twice as much annually. In addition, prisoners deprived of normal human contact can’t properly reintegrate into society. Ultimately, that means higher crime rates. The use of solitary costs taxpayers more and it doesn’t keep communities safe.”

Hosted by the Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee (LPDOC), human rights and religious activists will gather in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, this week to protest the use of solitary at the federal penitentiary there. A candlelight vigil is scheduled for the evening of August 6 at the corner of Route 15 and William Penn Drive.

“The increasing use of isolation units as a means of control is alarming. The goal of solitary confinement is clearly to disable prisoners through spiritual, psychological and/or physical breakdown. It’s torture and a recipe for disaster,” said a LPDOC spokesperson.

Since 2008, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons, Lewisburg penitentiary has been the nation’s repository for especially difficult and aggressive prisoners. Accordingly, less emphasis is placed on inmate programs at Lewisburg compared to other institutions in the federal correctional system.

A significant number of the prisoners at Lewisburg are “locked down,” confined in small cells 23 hours a day with little or no human contact. Reading materials, television, radios and other property is restricted or denied. There are severe limits on visitation and prisoners are unable to participate in group activities. Almost all human contact occurs while the prisoner is in restraints and/or behind some sort of barrier.

According to experts, people placed in solitary exhibit a variety of negative psychological reactions, including severe and chronic depression, decreased brain function, and hallucinations. Self-mutilation and suicide are not uncommon.

Studies have found that a majority of the persons in solitary are mentally ill or cognitively disabled. Other low-risk “nuisance prisoners” also are housed in solitary because they have broken minor rules or filed grievances or lawsuits.

“If solitary confinement were used solely to house predators, most of these units would stand virtually empty.”

Advocates say there are better alternatives to solitary.

“We don’t have to sacrifice fairness or cost-effectiveness for the sake of safety. Mississippi’s correctional system did away with solitary, reduced the rate of violence by 70 percent, and saves the State roughly $8 million per year. We think the federal Bureau of Prisons should follow Mississippi’s example.”

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