A controversial study by Colorado’s Corrections Department claims to debunk the widely held theory that solitary confinement harms prisoners, reports the Denver Post. Findings seem to show not just a lack of deterioration in mental health after long periods with virtually no human contact, but also, incredibly, some slight improvement, writes columnist Susan Greene. The report is being criticized for its methodology. Detractors fear it will prompt Colorado and other states to warehouse more inmates in prolonged isolation.
“It’s garbage in, garbage out,” says Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist internationally recognized for describing the crippling effects of solitary confinement. Others – including some notable critics of isolation – defend the study. “I was certainly surprised by its findings. We all were. But this is a serious piece of research,” says Jamie Fellner, a top lawyer with Human Rights Watch who serves on the state’s advisory board. State Corrections chief researcher Maureen O’Keefe has said her office launched the project largely because her department was concerned about being sued for civil-rights violations. Colorado houses 6.2 percent of its prisoners in so-called “administrative segregation,” far more than the national average. The report says data show a slight “improvement in psychological well-being across all study groups.” It doesn’t discount emotional distress, yet concludes that solitary confinement didn’t cause it.