Solitary: A Critical Look at Solitary Confinement in American Penitentiaries

Award for courage in addressing a difficult topic

By: Jason Sanchez, Kendall Chaffin, Lauren Trent, Ruby Lake, Wes Hardin

A magazine that dives into the ethical, legal, sociological, and scientific controversies surrounding solitary confinement in America’s most secure prison facilities and confronts the criminalization of race and mental illness, and the ongoing militarization of our prison systems.

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Solitary magazine is a comprehensive assay of the scientific, sociological, and critical elements that compose much of the contemporary conversation on solitary confinement and the carceral state.

As you will see, modern solitary confinement’s earliest ancestor emerged in early American penitentiaries and psychological hospitals as a treatment tool or form of ‘rehabilitative’ therapy; however, through the decades it has integrated itself into American carceral culture as one of the most important and widespread tools of prison securitization and prisoner domination.

Through this magazine, we hope to uncover and discuss the most essential biomedical, ethical, and structural consequences of the practice: ranging from claims of solitary confinement-induced ‘psychosis’ and pathology, to historic legal battles and constitutional quandaries, to vital critical assessments of the penal tool in practice. We will discuss the vital ethical underpinnings of current arguments over the permissibility of solitary confinement, and consult first-hand accounts of the practice in use through memoirs, artistic reflections, and interviews–in an attempt to characterize the experience of solitary confinement as a convicted person.

Through philosophical and critical analysis, we hope to shed some light on the mechanisms at work– both embodied and external– that make solitary confinement such a serious and potentially harmful practice.

Finally, we hope to highlight the vital racial histories of American solitary confinement and incarceration that underscore the most essential purpose of the contemporary penitentiary. Prepare to go far behind the bars of America’s most secure and militarized facilities and ask the questions: what is solitary confinement for? What is solitary confinement like? What could the future of solitary confinement look like?

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