Free «Solitary Confinement» Essay Sample

Solitary Confinement


Statement of the Problem

Over the years, there have been long drawn-out polarizing perspectives amongst penologists and other experts with regard to the best strategies for the management of prisons. Among the most prominent issues that have been raised during these debates is the concept of solitary confinement. In comparison, the prisoners who serve their term in the general prison population have access to various activities that enhance social interaction. In practice, serving a sentence in solitary confinement, inmates who have been charged with serious disciplinary misconduct or who express self-threat or threat to others face increased supervision and control (Shalev, 2009). It became evident that such type of sentence has the potential to cause mental health illnesses in previously healthy individuals.

Purpose of the Study

As studies show that the average rate of incarceration is increasing over the years in the United States, it is important to identify the effectiveness of the existing system. As identified, one of the main methods used is solitary confinement, and this study seeks to identify whether solitary confinement for a long time has psychological effects on an inmate. The main purpose of incarceration is punishment and promotion of desistance from illegal acts. However, the procedures used should be ideal to serve their purpose, without causing any additional problems to the inmates. Therefore, it is important to understand whether there are psychological effects that result from solitary confinement.

Research Question

  • Does being placed in solitary confinement for a long period cause psychological effect?


  • Solitary confinement for a long period causes psychological effects.

Theoretical Framework

In order to answer the research question, it is important to base the research on a theoretical framework. The current study will be grounded on the deprivation and importation models. The importation model suggests that maladaptation such as poor mental health is imported into the prison by the inmates (Arboleda-Florez, 2013). The theorists supporting this model suggest that mental health is one of the main triggers of criminal activities; therefore, arrest and imprisonment are grounded on an individual’s state of mental health (Metzner, & Fellner, 2010). On the other hand, the deprivation theorists suggest that maladaptation, including mental illness, can be caused by the suffering experienced within the prison environment. However, the deprivation model is critiqued for its failure to explain why some of the individuals do not develop mental illnesses (Dye, 2010). Thus, it can be argued that if deprivation is the sole causal factor in the development of mental illnesses in prison, then all the inmates would suffer from mental health problems.

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However, as different studies have indicated, this is not the case. In contrast, the limitation of the importation model is that it ignores the effects of the deprivation model. It is not realistic to suggest that the prison environment does not have an impact on the mental health of the prisoners. For instance, experiencing assault while in prison is expected to impact negatively on the mental health of an individual (Dye, 2010). Accordingly, the best approach to explain the mental health problems experienced by prisoners is a combination of the two models. In reality, there are people who already have mental health issues when they are sent to prison, while others develop them due to the suffering and pain while serving a sentence.

Operational Definition

Although there is a difference on the physical conditions and routines of solitary confinement taking into consideration the setting and situation, typically, the practice involves the seclusion of a prisoner for about 22 to 23 hours a day, with a few physical facilities and treatment services available to them (Butler, Griffin, & Johnson, 2012).


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Literature Review

In order to understand the psychological effects of solitary confinement, it is crucial to learn the viewpoint of different parties that can assist to determine whether it should continue being used or not. Therefore, it is important to review the research works of different authors. Since a person may develop mental effects due to physical traumas, the literature review will focus on both physical and social impacts of solitary confinement.

Physiological Effects of Solitary Confinement

Smith (2006) and Shalev (2009) state that inmates serving a sentence in solitary confinement often experience various physiological symptoms even if they only spend a short time in prison. In fact, some of the commonly reported symptoms include hypertension-related symptoms. Moreover, Smith (2006) states that there are common reports of headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, trembling, and sweaty palms. In addition, the inmates experience problems eating and digesting, especially within the first quarter of the year of solitary confinement. Furthermore, there are cases of drastic weight loss and lack of appetite, which is accompanied by diarrhea. The inmates also experience insomnia and chronic lethargy (Shalev, 2009). Accordingly, some of these effects may be physical manifestations of psychological problems that may be directly caused by the physical state of confinement. For instance, the long periods of inactivity may be the reason why prisoners complain of muscle and abdominal pains. Shalev (2009) has also stated that due to sensory deprivation, inmates experience adverse effects. They may also become oversensitive to normal stimuli, including the sound of closing door, and it may make it difficult for them to fall asleep. As a result, such overreactions to normal stimuli make it difficult for the individuals to return to the general population. The physical symptoms may become worse as the prisoner spends extended time in the solitary confinement, which may also aggravate the existing psychological symptoms and may lead to the development of new psychological impacts (Shalev, 2009).

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Psychological Impacts of Solitary Confinement

The confined inmates experience numerous psychological effects, which include emotional psychosis and cognitive-related symptoms. Solitary confinement is considered to be harmful to the mental health of the prisoners as it does not enable them to have any meaningful social interaction. Social contact is a psychological stimulus that is associated with the mental wellness symptoms, which may lead to serious behavioral and emotional consequences.

Emotional and Behavioral Impacts

The majority of people held in solitary confinement suffer from adverse emotional impact that may be acute or chronic. The adversity of the condition is determined by the individual and the length of time that they spend in solitary confinement. There are also reports of panic and range, including poor impulse control, irritability, and hostility, reported by the confined inmates. Moreover, there is frequent exhibition of anxiety, and it varies from low stress levels to full-blown panic attacks. There are also cases of depression, including mood swings, withdrawal and hopelessness reported by confined inmates. It is worth noting that depression may escalate and lead to thoughts of self-harm and even suicidal thoughts. Griest (2012) states that compared to the general population in prison, the prisoners in solitary confinement report higher rates of self-harm and suicide, including banging their heads against the wall and cutting. In addition, most of the issues that the prisoners report when in isolation are also prevalent immediately after release from isolated confinement. Furthermore, the individuals who are in isolation exhibit estrangement disorders and aggressive behavior during and after confinement (Dingfelder, 2012). In addition, the inmates have difficulty adjusting and engaging in social contact after release; consequently, they may engage in increased misconduct while in prison and may also express hostile behavior towards the correctional officers (Costanzo, Martinez, Klebe, Torrence & Livengood, 2012). Although there are cases when inmates have exhibited positive behavioral change after isolation have been documented, such results are rare (Costanzo et al., 2012).

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Cognitive Impacts

There have been cases of cognitive processes of the inmates deteriorating during isolation. There are cases when inmates report memory loss, and a significant number of isolated inmates have reported cases of impaired concentration and memory loss (Shalev, 2009). The majority of them are unable to watch television or read since these are the few activities that they use as sources of entertainment. There have also been reports of extreme confusion and disorientation in time and space by the inmates (Shalev, 2009).

Among psychological symptoms that are common among the inmates who have been placed in solitary confinement is psychosis-related. The inmates have reported cases of disrupted thinking, which is defined as the inability to maintain a comprehensible flow of thoughts. The disruption in thinking may lead to psychosis symptoms. The inmates with such experiences often report cases of intense paranoia, illusions, and hallucinations. Some people have reported scenarios when they believed that they were persecuted (Shalev, 2009). In some cases, inmates have expressed paranoia to an extent when they required hospitalization. In fact, the above-mentioned mental health problems are not anomalies. The confined inmates often describe the feeling of extreme mental duress after spending only a few days in solitary confinement (Smith, 2006). Furthermore, some inmates have compared confined inmates to torture or trauma victims due to the numerous acute impacts that result from the two scenarios. However, it is unclear about the period of time that the symptoms persist during and immediately after confinement for the majority of inmates.

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The existing literature seems to support the fact that solitary confinement triggers both physiological and psychological effects. The highlighted physiological effects are also seen as physical symptoms of psychological effects, and at times, they are causal effects of the psychological problems. The effects of solitary confinement have been described by different researchers as extremely dangerous to the victims, other inmates, and officers within the prison. They may also pose a danger to the members of public once the inmates get released. The gap that the literature leaves to be filled include conducting further research in order to identify whether it is possible to use solitary confinement in a way that will eliminate mental health problems among the inmates. In addition, further research should be conducted in order to verify whether the cause of psychological problems is solitary confinement or the inmates are already mentally ill when they are sent |to the prison.



The purpose of the methodology section is to explain the procedure of data collection for the study. It will clarify all the methodological choices, which will likewise be advocated in point of interest using supporting literature from works on research techniques. Afterward, the investigation procedure and selection grounded on the fitness of the examination will be explained. A discussion regarding the sort of information that will be gathered will follow, and there will be a clarification on the strengths and weaknesses of the data type. There will be a presentation of the data gathering techniques and the purpose behind the decision over other available strategies. The section will likewise present data on the sample to be utilized.

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Research Design

Stokes (2014) states that research design is a blueprint for a thesis or a research paper. As a result, it is an essential part of a research paper, and it is crucial to define and explain it. The current paper seeks to identify whether solitary confinement has adverse effects on the psychological health of inmates. In order to gather the information required, the study will make use of both primary and secondary sources of information. The secondary sources will include the research findings of other researchers, while primary data will include actual collection of data though interviews and surveys. Talking about the best approach for the research, it is qualitative research, while secondary research involves the collection of data from other researchers. The reason is that it is a time-saving and cost-effective approach of acquiring a deeper understanding of the area under study.


In order to obtain the required primary data for the research, the study will seek to collect information from former incarcerated individuals, especially those that served a part of their jail terms in solitary confinement. In addition, there will be the interviewing of psychiatrists who have handled clients who were formerly serving jail terms. In order to receive quality data, the research will attempt to gather information from at least twenty participants and will also try to have the participants evenly distributed between former inmates and psychiatrists. In fact, the psychiatrists are expected to give a professional or expert perspective on the study question. It is expected that they shall assist in identifying whether inmates develop mental illnesses after incarceration or they are usually ill prior to it.

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Research instruments include the equipment to be used by the researcher in the collection of data. The instruments to be used have to be compatible with the data collection method of choice. In the current study, the data will be collected through interviews and surveys. In order to ensure that the intended data is collected, the research will make use of questionnaires with predetermined questions for the inmates and the psychiatrists. In addition, there will be a list of open-ended questions for the interviews. Moreover, there will be the use of a Dictaphone or note pads to record notes during interviews to be used later during the compilation of the data. Furthermore, the research will incorporate the use of technology for the interviews. Due to the distance and time limitations, such platforms as Skype will be utilized to conduct the interviews. Therefore, there will be the use of a well-functioning computer installed with the Skype application as well as good internet connection.


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The procedure will include communication with potential participants on their willingness to participate. They will also sign a confidentiality note that means that their personal details will not be reviewed without their consent. In addition, it will mean that the data collected will only be used for academic purposes and not any income-generating activities. The participants will receive the questionnaires either physically or via email or personally and will be expected to provide the necessary information and send it back. There will also be face-to-face meeting for the interviews or through the use of Skype. Once the information is collected, it will be analyzed in order to answer the research question.

Data Analysis

The analysis of the data will include classifying the collected information into different sections or headers, which will enable answering the research questions. In addition, the feedback will be qualitative; thus, the analysis will follow the qualitative approach.

Limitations of the Study

  1. Data collection is expected to require a lot of time due to the different schedules of the participants;
  2. Personal bias of the researcher may easily influence the research.

Ethical Issues

The ethical issues in the study will include the confidentiality of the information, while ensuring that the personal details of the participants will not be disclosed without consent.

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Dissemination Strategy

The dissemination will involve having a colleague scanning the findings in order to give their opinion on the paper. Afterwards, the data will be delivered to the professor for marking and grading. In addition, it will be distributed among participants that may wish to see the results.


The research approach will be seeking to identify whether the solitary confinement has psychological effects on the inmates. In order to obtain ample data to conduct the investigation, the study will adopt a qualitative approach. The data collection will be conducted through interviews and questionnaires. The participants will be former inmates with a history of solitary confinement and psychiatrists who handled former inmates.

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