Can You Request Isolation In Prison?

Prison is a scary place, but it’s definitely not lonely. Unless you are in a maximum-security facility with single cells, chances are, you will be in a cell/room with at least one other person.

In the prison where I was incarcerated, we lived in dorm-style housing with six inmates in a room that was designed to hold four. Mass incarceration and overcrowding has led to prisons adding extra bunks to every inch of unused space they can find. And, that means that you will never be alone no matter where you go, unless you get yourself into trouble.

With prison being such an intimidating and scary place, some people might think that the smart thing to do is to request isolation. Wouldn’t that make your time behind bars easier to deal with and allow you to avoid the violence?

This question leads us to today’s blog post: can you request isolation in prison?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • What is protective custody?
  • What are the effects of solitary confinement?

What is protective custody?

Inmates who request isolation will be denied. Yes, you can ask for it, but the answer will be a big, “no.” However, there are a few ways to get your own cell that is completely segregated from the rest of the prison population.

Inmates in maximum-security or in SuperMax facilities are often housed in single cells. But, that’s not due to a request from the inmate. Prisons will also segregate you from general population if you commit a major conduct violation, like getting into a fight. This is referred to as going to “the hole” or “the SHU.”

You can also be segregated into your own cell if you are extremely sick and need to be quarantined. The final way to get a cell all to yourself is through protective custody.

Now, while you can’t request isolation on a whim, you can ask to be segregated from the prison population and placed into protective custody if you are in danger. At the prison I was in, if you wanted protective custody, you had to speak with an officer and fill out a form. 

I never asked to, “PC,” so I never saw the form you had to fill out. However, I’m sure you had to name an enemy and give specific reasons why you needed to be segregated. I can’t imagine that this would last for longer than a few days, but I could be wrong. 

High-profile inmates, like celebrities and politicians – or former police officers, prosecutors, and correctional officers that wind up behind bars – are automatically placed in protective custody because they are automatically considered to be in danger. 

Also, inmates who are incarcerated for crimes against children – especially sex offenders – are often isolated because many inmates won’t think twice about getting violent with those people. There is a code in prison, and people who hurt kids won’t survive if they are allowed to live with the general population.

What are the effects of solitary confinement?

When you are in isolation, it’s like being in prison inside of a prison. If you are in solitary confinement for an extended period of time, it can have some serious effects on your mental health.

A segregated cell is a small concrete room behind a solid steel door, and most don’t have any kind of window or light from the outside. Inmates in solitary are in their cells for 22 to 24 hours per day, and they have extremely limited contact with other humans.

Your visiting privileges are either completely taken away or reduced to non-contact visits with your family, phone calls are extremely rare, and you get to shower about once per week.

When you are in solitary, you are also cut off from the prison’s programming. So, that means no educational classes, work, or recreation. Also, your access to any kind of mental health treatment is pretty much gone.

There is no access to TV or music, limited access to books, and very limited personal property. To make things even worse, inmates in solitary are essentially being tortured with sensory deprivation, permanent bright lighting (they never turn the lights off), extreme temperatures, and forced insomnia.

Currently, more than 80,000 people are in solitary confinement in United States prisons, according to the Bureau of Justice statistics. That doesn’t include people who are in jails, juvenile facilities, and immigration detention centers.

Some inmates are in solitary for years, and numerous studies have shown that this can have devastating effects like:

  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Hypersensitivity to noise and touch
  • Insomnia and paranoia
  • Uncontrollable feelings of rage and fear
  • Distortions of time and perception
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

It’s even worse for juveniles and people with mental health issues. Those inmates whose brains are still developing or who are mentally ill will have their mental health damaged severely by isolation, but yet they are released directly to the streets with no mental health care.

Solitary confinement actually fits the definition of torture and is a violation of human rights law. Some states are looking into ending this. But, we still have a long way to go before we will even get close to abolishing this form of punishment.

Should solitary confinement still be allowed as punishment in prison? Let us know in the comments below.

Sources:  

Solitary Confinement Facts

https://www.afsc.org/resource/solitary-confinement-facts

What does solitary confinement do to your mind?

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/what-does-solitary-confinement-do-to-your-mind/

About the Author Natalie

Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.

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