Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Solitary Confinement Screws Up the Brains of Prisoners

Solitary Confinement Screws Up the Brains of Prisoners

Ramin Skibba, “Solitary Confinement Screws Up the Brains of Prisoners,” Newsweek, April 18, 2017, https://www.newsweek.com/2017/04/28/solitary-confinement-prisoners-behave-badly-screws-brains-585541.html 

This article published in Newsweek argues that solitary confinement harms the brain by analyzing studies done on isolated rodents. These studies find that over time, rats isolated in small cages experience detrimental symptoms such as aggressive behavior, higher incidences of disease, and loss of ability to recognize other animals. This can be attributed to neurological impairment such as damaged brain cells, synapses, blood flow, and nervous systems. Another study shows that isolated rodents experience brain damage in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex, which further impairs learning, memory, perception, and executive brain functions.  

This article posits that these studies are good indicators of what happens to human brains of incarcerated people in solitary confinement. Further research shows that those in restrictive housing are more than two and a half times more likely to exhibit post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and that there is a correlation between solitary confinement and suicide attempts. The article concludes by examining how solitary confinement has been outlawed or limited for certain groups such as incarcerated juveniles, and argues that these limitations should be expanded to protect a greater number of people from experiencing the dangerous impacts of confinement on the brain. 

Click here to read the article. 

Keywords: solitary confinement, restrictive housing, neuroscience, brain, post-traumatic stress disorder, juveniles, reform