Barred from treatment

Malaki Lingg, Staff Writer

Trigger Warning: Mention of suicide and abuse.

The United States has the largest prison population in the world, with an estimated two million people currently behind bars. As the prison population increases, the U.S. continues to put those incarcerated through various unethical treatments, from solitary confinement, lack of suicide prevention and the failure of prison mental health services. The U.S. prison system needs to have a major overhaul to fix the treatment of those incarcerated. 

According to the Urban Institute in 2015, “An estimated 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners, and 64 percent of jail inmates have a mental health problem.” With a total prison population of close to two million, there are approximately one million inmates with mental illnesses. Many inmates are on waitlists to receive treatments, while those who are not on waitlists may not be eligible for treatments. The decision of treatment is up to prison staff, if they do not classify your treatment as important, there is a high chance that you will not get any mental health services or treatments. This disproportionately affects those who have psychotic disorders. Those with untreated psychotic disorders are more likely to act out violently. When this happens, they may be marked down as unruly, uncooperative and possibly submitted to solitary confinement or an isolation chamber. 

Solitary confinement is the practice of isolating prisoners for approximately 23 hours a day with little to no human interaction. This is used as disciplinary action against unruly inmates. Alongside the isolation, personal items and educational materials are typically prohibited from being with the prisoner. Many who have gone through solitary confinement have been diagnosed with disorders such as anxiety, depression and psychosis due to the intense sensory deprivation. Solitary confinement can last from a couple of days to even decades. Albert Woodfox, a former prisoner, had undergone solitary confinement for over 40 years. After his four-decade stay in solitary confinement, he was admitted to a psychiatric ward for nearly 10 months prior to his release from prison. The United Nations has described solitary confinement lasting longer than 15 days to be torture. The practice of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons cannot be defined as anything other than psychological torture. Instead of properly treating mentally ill inmates and rehabilitating them, the government would rather submit them to forms of psychological warfare. Though many states are banning extended use of solitary confinement, immigration detention facilities continue to use this unjust method. 

The leading cause of prisoner deaths in 2018 was suicide, accounting for 29.9% of all prison deaths. The suicide rate among prisoners is four times the average of the general population. As the suicide rate among prisoners is increasing, it seems that the government is doing the bare minimum in preventing these deaths and aiding those who are mentally ill. As previously stated, many inmates who are mentally ill are submitted to solitary confinement. In New York prisons from 2015 to 2019, the suicide rate for those in solitary confinement was five times higher than for those who were not. The U.S. prison system is failing those who are mentally ill and their families. 

The U.S. prison system is a broken institution with fundamentally immoral practices such as solitary confinement and their mistreatment of inmates, as well as a substantial lack of good mental health services. Without massive prison reform, these human rights violations will continue. If you would like to learn more, please check out the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).