Serving a sentence in solitary confinement
Isolated and alone, solitary confinement is all some inmates have known. This is the story of Timothy Gumm, a Plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the Georgia Diagnostic Classification Prison. According to his lawyer, Gumm was held in solitary confinement for seven years, even after the charges that landed him in the hole were dropped years later.
In correctional facilities throughout the country, inmates who are placed in solitary confinement are imprisoned in a windowless, closet-sized room that comes furnished with one toilet. It is there they will spend 23 out of 24 hours every day isolated from the outside world and deprived of human contact. Prisoners can be placed in isolation for a seemingly endless list of nonviolent violations such as failing to obey an officer’s orders or smoking where it is not permitted. Once they are in confinement, there is often uncertainty about how long the imprisonment will last or what they need to do to leave.
Expert calls for reform in Georgia DOC facilities
Gumm and a handful of other inmates are taking the Department of Corrections to court and have brought in experts to weigh in on the situation. Craig Haney is one expert who was asked to evaluate the standards and practices at the prison. In his report, Haney says that the treatment inmates are subjected to the “harshest and most draconian” living conditions when compared to solitary confinement practices across the globe. He goes on to say that the damage caused by solitary confinement can have irreversible and life-altering consequences.
And he’s right. Countless prison experts, psychologists and other medical professionals agree that solitary confinement can be a fatal last resort. Studies have shown that isolation can lead to depression, psychosis, rage, paranoia, suicidal ideations and that’s just the beginning. In 2013, a report issued for the New York City Board of Corrections referred to solitary confinement as “one of the most severe forms of punishment […] short of killing them.”
These barbaric solitary confinements are far from common practices in other places in the world and can cause irreparable damage. What will it take for the United States to stand up to for the basic human rights of inmates? If Gumm and the other inmates prevail, Georgia may finally reform its prison practices once and for all and set an example for the rest of the country.