In 1993, Dr. Stuart Grassian, following extensive interviews with men in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Unit (SHU), reported that extensive periods in solitary confinement lead to what he referred to as a “syndrome” particular to prison isolation units. Anxiety, ruminations, panic attacks, aggression, paranoia, and psychotic symptoms were observed as a consequence of prolonged solitary confinement. Prisoners already presenting problems with impulsivity, aggression, and other problematic mental health and behavioral problems may become far more aggravated in solitary confinement. This contributes to what Dr. Craig Haney has referred to as a vicious cycle in which emotionally troubled individuals placed in solitary become more aggravated and cause more problems, leading to longer or repeated terms in solitary confinement, and thus creates more negative behaviors in the process.
Unsurprisngly, it has also been well-established that inmates in solitary confinement have higher recidivism rates upon release from incarceration. An August 2012 report commissioned by the American Friends Service Committee found that prisoners released from Arizona supermax custody are emotionally and mentally harmed by the experience of solitary. Further, the report found that supermax inmates are inadequately prepared for release, as they are prohibited from educational and vocational opportunities and are limited in visitation during their incarceration, which contribute to inmates being “deeply traumatized and essentially socially disabled.”
Presented here are profiles of two prisoners, in Washington and Utah, who have written to Solitary Watch about their experiences in isolation. Both report extended periods in solitary confinement, which they report has had the effect of increasing their hostility against authority and leading to increased feelings of anxiety, respectively. They report receiving no constructive, rehabilitative programming, which they argue only contributes to escalating problems as they neither learn to “become productive” and are left at “rock bottom.”