Torturing the Mentally Ill: Louisiana Bill Could End Solitary Confinement for Mentally Ill People
Helen Lewis - Contributing Writer April 27th 2021
“Solitary Confinement” by WhyDolls is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0A bill to stop people with serious mental illnesses from being incarcerated in solitary confinement has been deferred to next week’s agenda in the Louisiana House of Representatives. The bill, HB 68, was authored by Representative Mandie Landry. In the past, Landry successfully championed a bill that prohibited Louisiana prisons from putting pregnant women in solitary confinement. The legislation was the first change to Louisiana’s solitary confinement laws in 150 years. Throughout its history, Louisiana has relied on solitary confinement as a punitive measure to an extent that most state’s penitentiary systems have not. That’s why currently Louisiana is not only the incarceration capital of the world but also has one of the highest rates of imprisoned people in solitary confinement, and some of the longest solitary sentences in the country. A 2019 study found that 77% of imprisoned people in Louisiana who are held in solitary confinement have been there for more than a year, which is four times the national rate. -ADVERTISEMENT- Consuela Gaines spent 22 years in prison, and two years in solitary confinement. “Spiritually, it can destroy a person,” Gaines explained, commenting that her two years in solitary were far more excruciating than the 20 years she spent in prison put together. “To be deprived of being able to be around other human beings – that’s not normal. That’s cruel.” Imprisoned people in solitary are prohibited from making phone calls, reading, letter writing, exercising, or even having regular meals. Because of this, mental health deterioration is not only common it’s inevitable. Despite the fact that solitary confinement is unquestionably the worst place in prison to house individuals with mental health issues, it has become the “de facto mental health unit for incarcerated people”. In Louisiana, one-third of the state’s imprisoned people in solitary confinement are seriously mentally ill. Solitary confinement can lead to lasting psychological damage in people who don’t have a history of mental illness. Imagine what it does to people who do. People who suffer from mental illnesses struggle more to comply with strict prison rules, which leads to them being written up with disciplinary infractions. A high rate of disciplinary write-ups leads to them being punished with restrictive housing placements which further exacerbates their mental illnesses that caused the issues in the first place. In other words, solitary confinement doesn’t work as a disciplinary measure, it just worsens issues and causes infractions down the road. According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Right on Crime’s paper “Solitary Confinement in the Pelican State”, “Solitary Confinement has human and financial costs associated with its use, with little data, or research, to indicate its effectiveness in making prisons safer.” The report explained, “Persons who have served time in solitary confinement report psychological impacts like loneliness and boredom, mental deterioration, self-harm, and suicide. Even Pope Francis has weighed in on the issue and has referred to solitary confinement as “torture” citing studies that indicate, “the lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and significantly increase the suicidal tendency.”” Around the world, solitary confinement is regarded as torture because of the mental toll it can take. “Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez. “Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles.” Public opinion has shifted completely against solitary confinement to the point that it should be regarded as a bipartisan issue. In 2019, 28 states, including Republican strongholds, had legislation introduced to ban solitary confinement. Currently, there are 63 active pieces of legislation to limit solitary confinement. HB 68 could be the next piece of legislation that saves incarcerated people from the torture that is solitary confinement.