Solitary Confinement by Ronald W. Clark, Jr
“The Scientific Consensus”
The robust body of scientific research on the effects of solitary confinement, combined with the Supreme Court’s analysis in Wilkinson and ours in Shoats, further informs our inquiry into Plaintiffs’ claim that they had a liberty interest in avoiding the extreme conditions of solitary confinement on death row. This research contextualizes and confirms the holdings in Wilkinson and Shoats: It is now clear that the deprivations of protracted solitary confinement so exceeds the typical deprivations of imprisonment as to be the kind of”atypical, significant deprivation . . . which [can] create a liberty interest.
A comprehensive meta-analysis of the existing literature on solitary confinement within and beyond the criminal justice setting found that the empirical record compels an unmistakable conclusion: This experience is psychologically painful, can be traumatic and harmful, and puts many of those who have been subject to it at great risk of long term damage. Specifically, based on an examination of a representative sample of sensory deprivation studies, the researchers found that virtually everyone exposed to such conditions is affected in some way. They further explained that there is not a single study of solitary confinement wherein non-voluntary confinement that lasted for longer than 10 days failed to result in negative psychological effects. And as another researcher elaborated, All [individuals subjected to solitary confinement] will [. . .] experience a degree of stupor, difficulties with thinking and concentration, obsessional thinking, agitation, irritability and difficulty tolerating external stimuli. Anxiety and panic are common side effects. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, hallucinations, paranoia, claustrophobia, and suicidal ideations are also frequent results. Additional studies include in the aforementioned meta-analysis further “underscored the importance of social contact for the creation and maintenance of self.” In other words, in absence of interaction with others, an individual’s very identity is at risk of disintegration.