By now, many of you have plowed through the third season of Orange is the New Black. Even if you haven’t, it should come as no surprise that characters in the show are sometimes sent to solitary confinement, or the “shu” (segregated housing unit). The series has used this form of punishment (or, as some prison officials call it: “protection”) in a number of ways that drive the plot forward, and that attempt to familiarize viewers with the horrifying reality of this process.
The government has maintained that there is no systematic use of solitary confinement in America, but evidence shows otherwise. Tracking the issue can be difficult, as MuckRock’s Beryl Lipton pointed out last week, because the practice has a number of different names, depending on the institution.
We do know, however, that long-term solitary confinement—considered by many to be a form of torture—is used in our nation’s prisons, and that it carries disastrous consequences. Earlier this month, for example, Kalief Browder, who was imprisoned when he was 16 years old, committed suicide. During his three years at Rikers Island, he spent more than 400 days in solitary confinement.
Say it out loud: America has a torture problem. It’s alive and well in our broken prison system.