On any given day US prisons and jails hold between 80,000 and 120,000 men, women and children in solitary confinement. A significant percent of these individuals enter solitary with a mental disease and a similar percent of those held in isolation for extended periods of time develop severe psychiatric illnesses that include self amputation and suicidality. (US prisons and jails constitute the largest psychiatric hospitals in the country.) The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Juan E. Mendez, has concluded solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes torture. In Hell is a Very Small Place, Voices from Solitary Confinement," edited by Jean Casella, James Ridgeway and Sarah Shourd, 16 former and current solitary confinement inmates discuss their experience in solitary and two physicians and three professors (in law, political science and philosophy) discuss its physical and psychological effects and legal justification.
During this 32 minute conversation, Ms Casella provides an overview of Hell Is a Very Small Place. She explains why inmates are placed in solitary confinement, for how long and describes conditions under confinement. She provides an overview of the psychological effects of solitary noted by contributing authors Dr. Stuart Grassian and Dr. Terry Kupers. She addresses whether solitary confinement constitutes torture, explains how inmates attempt to keep their sanity, explains to what extent private sector profit making contributes to the practice and discusses what continued progress, if any, may be made under a new, incoming administration.
Ms. Jean Casella is co-director of Solitary Watch, a web-based watchdog project that investigates, documents, and disseminated information about solitary confinement in US prisons and jails. Prior to co-founding Solitary Watch in 2009, Ms. Casella managed several mission-driven book and magazine publishers including Thunder's Mouth Press and the Feminist Press. Jean's writing has appeared in The Nation, Mother Jones, The Guardian, Al Jazerra, and other publications and media outlets. The Hell is a Very Small Place anthology edited was published by The New Press in February. For her work on solitary confinement, Jean was awarded a Soros Media Fellowship in 2012.
For more information concerning Hell Is a Very Small Place go to: http://thenewpress.com/books/hell-very-small-place.
The UN Special Rapporteur's report is at: http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf.
For another physician's review of solitary confinement, see, for example, Dr. Atul Gawande's essay titled,"Hellhole," in the March 30, 2009 issue of The New Yorker. At: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/03/30/hellhole.