According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s new report on the practice of solitary confinement, the Florida Department of Corrections holds approximately 10,000 people – more than 10 percent of its population – in solitary on any given day. To put that number in perspective, the nationwide average was 4.5 percent in 2018.
Solitary confinement is commonly understood as the physical isolation of people confined to their cells or 22 to 24 hours a day.
In solitary confinement, a person rarely has any contact with other people. The less restrictive forms of solitary confinement mandate that an individual only is allowed outside access for two hours, three days a week.
The most restrictive form prohibits any outdoor access until 30 days in confinement is completed, and then only for two hours twice during a 30-day period.
Solitary confinement harms a person’s mental and physical health, as well as the community to which the person eventually returns, according to the study.
The study states that people in solitary attempt suicide at a much higher rate than those in the general population and people subjected to any notable time in solitary confinement can experience mental health episodes such as anxiety, depression, and even psychosis. These effects are not limited to people with pre-existing conditions. People who are otherwise mentally healthy are at an increased risk of developing mental health problems once in solitary confinement.
Phyllis Johnson-Mabery shared her sons’ story on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross. Her son was incarcerated and later committed suicide because of his six-and-a-half-years in solitary confinement. “He was paranoid. He was not trusting. He was losing hope in the end,” she explained.
Johnson-Mabery said her son never had mental health issues until his prolonged time in solitary. She said that after a few years he experienced “hallucinations, he shared that he was hearing voices, in his cell.”
Shalini Goel Agarwal, Senior Supervising Attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, explained the research and how it “shows that folks are not meant to be deprived of human contact entirely, you know, that people may think of that as a behavior modification tool, but it has the capacity to really damage a person.”
The report is meant to show the public what the State of Florida is doing to people who are incarcerated and the negative effects it has on that person who will eventually be released into society.
Listen to the entire interview with Shalini Goel Agarwal and Phyllis Johnson-Mabery as well as the entire show on Tuesday’s First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.
Amanda Brannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6317.