Solitary social animals MAR 24 2009
Atul Gawande branches out from his usual excellent writing on medicine and turns his attention to solitary confinement in America's prison system. Gawande likens extended solitary time to torture.
This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. With little concern or demurral, we have consigned tens of thousands of our own citizens to conditions that horrified our highest court a century ago. Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America's moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement-on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door.
This likely will not change until Americans start to believe that rehabilitation and not punishment is the primary goal of prisons. So, probably never.