While prisons are designed to further purposes of deterrence and retribution, do those aims come with an unfettered right to abuse incarcerated individuals?
In 2015, the nation was shocked to hear the story of Kalief Browder, a 16-year old wrongfully arrested for robbery who served two years in solitary confinement prior to trial. After his release, Browder committed suicide. A documentary entitled Time: The Kalief Browder Story, produced by iconic hip-hop rapper Jay-Z recounts Browder’s experience in Rikers and the psychological tortures of solitary confinement. In that same year, Terry Poole, a North Carolina inmate, committed suicide after serving time in solitary confinement. A recent article found that there are nearly 300 inmate suicide attempts in American jails and prisons every year. The statistical prevalence of suicide and suicide attempts increases for inmates in solitary confinement. The deleterious physical and psychological effects of solitary confinement has wide-spread social science support, but is the repudiation of solitary confinement progressing rapidly enough?
Ultimately, Americans—by and through the casting of their ballots—must decide whether the conviction of a crime, putting aside the heinousness of felony offenses generally, warrants an extraneous, additional punishment to include prolonged physical and psychological suffering. Does the Eighth Amendment allow for carte blanche treatment of inmates? Because of an adjudication of guilt, are prisoners properly cast into dark holes without recourse from our Constitution? I think not.