Op-Ed: Here in San Quentin, I see why solitary confinement must end – now
By Susanne Miller
“In today’s America, we are facing an unprecedented threat from violent extremists with no conscience who claim to honor the cause of justice and liberty. As we consider the challenges of our day, we are reminded that the time has come to end a prison system that too often places dangerous criminals in solitary confinement.”
— Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
In an op-ed published on Friday, former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for the immediate end of solitary confinement, a practice used to punish prisoners who break the rules or pose a danger to others or themselves.
In a world that is increasingly connected to the internet and cell phones, why do we continue to keep in solitary confinement more people than ever? And how much will it cost, not just in the federal prison system but also in county and local jails as well?
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation uses the term “administrative segregation” to describe the practice of placing a prisoner with a small, restricted amount of freedom while keeping the rest of the prison population separate. While the exact circumstances are complex, for many, it is solitary confinement.
In California, as the nation’s largest per capita prison population, each prison has a policy manual that governs the conditions of its prison population. For prisons that have more than 1,000 inmates, an example or two might include the practice of placing the most violent inmates in isolated areas without the staff or other inmates—even if they have committed murder, rape or robbery.
The practice is used to deter the most dangerous and the most disruptive inmates. But the cost of the program is enormous. According to former Rep. Jerrold Nadler, “the average cost for the use of a solitary cell in a federal facility is $45,000 a year.”
The cost of the use of solitary confinement in our county and city jails is far higher.
The practice of solitary confinement—the practice of separating prisoners—has been around for hundreds of years. It comes from the Bible. It is rooted in the concept of discipline. And the practice is used by many in our society to discipline and punish criminals.
The use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails has