Solitary Confinement

April 24, 2023 Criminal Defense

Solitary confinement is a practice used in prisons and jails to isolate individuals from the general population. While it is mainly used as a punishment for disciplinary infractions, prolonged periods of isolation can have severe psychological and physical consequences.

In Florida, the use of solitary confinement has come under scrutiny, with reports of inmates being kept in isolation for months or even years on end. Confinement like this can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and paranoia. In the most severe cases, it may lead to suicide.

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges, it is in your best interest to reach out to a defense attorney near you. A qualified defense attorney can help ensure your rights are protected and can work to get you out of solitary confinement and into a more humane living situation. This page will explore the dangers of solitary confinement, along with the importance of seeking legal help from a defense attorney.  

What is Solitary Confinement?

Solitary confinement is a form of imprisonment in which an inmate is isolated from the general population of a prison or jail and placed in a cell or unit by themselves for 22 to 24 hours a day. They have limited contact with other people, including correctional staff, and can have restricted access to basic amenities like natural light, fresh air, and exercise.

Florida’s Department of Corrections has 4 types of Solitary Confinement: (1) Administrative Confinement, Disciplinary Confinement, Close Management, and Protective Management.

The first, Administrative Confinement, is a type of temporary separation of an inmate from other inmates in the general population for security and safety. This type of temporary confinement is done while a more permanent decision is made as to whether the inmate should be placed in one of the other types of confinement. This type of confinement is not done as a form of punishment. On the contrary, it is sometimes used when an inmate is attacked, and the correction staff is given a written statement by the inmate that they fear for their safety.

One of the more common types used by correction officers is Disciplinary Confinement. Florida’s Department of Corrections defines it as a form of punishment in which inmates found guilty of committing violations of Department rules are confined for specified periods of time to individual cells based upon authorized penalties for prohibited conduct. While this type of confinement separates the inmate from the general population, it does not mean that the inmate needs to remain alone in the cell. In some circumstances, as long as the cell has another bed, the inmate may have a roommate if the safety and concerns of the correction staff deem it appropriate.

Close Management is more akin to what is known as “solitary confinement.” These is reserved for inmates who continue to break rules or who threaten the safety and orderly operation of the facility. In these situations, the inmate may be removed for longer periods of time.

Finally, Protective Management or protective custody is used as a form of separation from the general population for inmates requesting protection from other inmates for reasons of health or safety. This is not really seen as confinement as it is also not a type of punishment. It is important to note that inmates on death row, in close management, or in disciplinary confinement are not eligible for placement in protective management.

Criticism of Solitary Confinement

The practice of solitary confinement is typically used as a form of punishment for inmates who violate prison rules or pose a threat to themselves or others, but it has been criticized for its potential to cause serious psychological harm, including depression, anxiety, and even suicide. The United Nations considers solitary confinement for more than 15 days to be a form of torture, and many countries have placed limits on its use.

According to Dr. Sharon Shalev, author of A Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement, the following lists the possible effects of solitary confinement:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Anger, irritability, hostility
  • Panic attacks
  • Hypersensitivity to sounds and smells
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Social withdrawal
  • Outbursts of violence
  • Psychosis
  • Fear of death
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide

When Would an Inmate Receive Solitary Confinement?

Inmates can be placed in solitary confinement for an infraction while incarcerated, including fighting with inmates, or talking back to the guards. The conditions for solitary confinement can vary from each prison.

Florida’s Department of Corrections specifies that before an inmate can be placed in Confinement, they must be given a pre-confinement medical evaluation by medical staff. However, if an inmate is already in another type of confinement status, as long as they received this initial evaluation they don’t need to be reexamined to be placed in disciplinary confinement.

If the inmate is pregnant, the Department of Corrections requires a senior correctional officer to fill out a report that specifies: (1) the individualized reason that restrictive housing is necessary; (2) the reason less restrictive ways are not available instead; and (3) whether there are qualified healthcare professionals at the correction institution who object to placing the pregnant inmate in confinement. This report must be given to the pregnant inmate within 12 hours of being placed in confinement.

According to American Friends Service Committee, the following lists possible solitary confinement conditions:

  • Isolated confinement behind a solid door between 22-24 hours;
  • Severely limited contact with other inmates or employees;
  • Limited access to rehabilitative and educational programming;
  • Limited access to phone calls or family visits;
  • Inadequate medical and mental health treatment;
  • Physical punishment such as restraint chairs, hog-tying, or forced cell extraction;
  • Sensory deprivation, permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures; or
  • Sexual intimidation and other forms of brutality and humiliation.

Statistics on Dangers of Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness

The following lists statistics from the Psychiatric Times regarding the dangers of solitary confinement:

  • Isolation such as solitary confinement causes a 26% increased risk of premature death;
  • More than 50% of suicides that happen in carceral institutions occur in a solitary confinement setting;
  • In 2014, 79% of suicides committed in Californian prisons occurred in solitary confinement.

To find out more information on statistics on solitary confinement in Florida, read our blog post here.

Example Case

Joshua McLemore, 29, was an inmate who died while in solitary confinement while serving a sentence at the Indiana Jackson County Jail. According to the report, McLemore died from an organ failure in 2021 that followed being sentenced to nearly three weeks in solitary confinement.

The lawsuit against the prison claims that McLemore was placed in a windowless, padded isolation cell, where he remained “confined, alone, and in a constant state of psychosis for 20 days.”

McLemore’s estate filed the suit against Jackson County, the sheriff Rick Meyer, three employees with the jail, and the doctor who oversaw clinical issues and procedures for the jail.

According to the coroner’s report, McLemore’s death was caused by “multiple organ failure to refusal to eat or drink with altered mental status due to untreated schizophrenia.” There was also a note regarding a withdrawal from methamphetamine.

McLemore was charged with a battery offense against a public official in July 2021 for pulling a nurse’s hair while he was in the emergency room. The defendant was then taken out of the hospital, in just his underwear and handcuffs, and taken to jail.

Upon arrival, McLemore was taken into an isolated, padded cell where he remained “almost continuously” until his death weeks later. The report indicates he was taken out of the isolated cell only four times, when the jail employees would shower him by strapping him to a chair. The lawsuit claims that the hospital waited until McLemore’s condition was so dire—he lost nearly 45 pounds—that he needed to be airlifted to a hospital, where he died two days later.

The lawsuit filed on Wednesday claimed McLemore’s cause of death was the result of “multiple acts of indifference, as well as systemic and unconstitutional deficiencies.”

The lawsuit also addressed McLemore’s struggle with diagnosed schizophrenia and substance abuse, and while incarcerated was in the middle of an “acute mental health crisis.”

Further critique of the jail accused the staff of not sufficiently supervising its employees on how to handle such severe medical and mental health issues. The lawsuit claims the jail violated McLemore’s 14th Amendment rights by “causing him unnecessary pain and suffering, and, ultimately, an avoidable death.”

Seeking Legal Representation in Tallahassee, Florida

Solitary confinement, while a controversial method, is still widely used and practiced among state and federal prisons. Getting placed into solitary confinement while incarcerated can cause both mental and physical problems. The best way to prevent a defendant from getting placed in solitary confinement is to fight their case from the very beginning. A skilled Tallahassee, FL Criminal defense attorney can help determine what defenses are applicable to the charges against you, and fight to get the charges lessened or dropped completely.

Don Pumphrey and his team of attorneys have represented clients all across the state of Florida for various criminal offenses. We understand the nuances of law, and how to navigate the legal world during a criminal trial. We want to provide you with top-notch criminal defense while ensuring none of your rights are violated. To receive a free consultation today, contact Pumphrey Law Firm at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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