The Instigator
Pro (for)
3 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Solitary Confinement Use Should be Reduced and Elimanted

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/29/2016 Category: Politics
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 14,109 times Debate No: 88937
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (21)
Votes (1)




I believe that solitary confinement should be phased out of prisons within the United States and eventually eliminated in its current form.

Solitary confinement (or segregation)- placing an inmate within an isolated cell for a period longer than 72 hours for either protection of the inmate, protection of other inmates/the prison, or as a means of punishment.

Current Form- Isolated for 23 hours or more in a cell that generally is lit with artificial light 24 hours a day, has nothing more than a cot, sink, and toilet, has no personal items or stimuli, and has little to no human contact for the entirety of their time in segregation.

1. First Round is for acceptance only
2. Not forfeiting
3. Be respectful, site your sources or post the links at the end of each round, make clear, valid points.
4. No trolling.

Round 1: Acceptance of debate
Round 2: Intro into your argument, offer a broad outline of your main points with sources you plan to use outright.
Round 3: Counter-Argument/Further main points, use this round to further your main points or in order to argue against my main points. (Post any additional sources)
Round 4: Conclusion and closing statements

This is my first debate on here so if I do anything poorly, or just wrong please let me know and I will do my best to fix the problem. Thank you for your understanding and I am excited for my first debate.
Debate Round No. 1


Solitary confinement has no uses that override its negative effects on the prisoner and on society in general. It causes mental and physical stress that is expressed through mental illness and increased violence. It increases recidivism according to what data we have, though I will admit that there is only a small amount of research on what effect segregation has on recidivism either positive or negative. The negative effects are enormous while the positives are barely palpable. Because of this I propose that we slowly reduce the use of solitary confinement while also improving the conditions in order to lessen its negative effects while maintaining its postive uses. (The positive uses being safety of the prisoner in question and safety of other prisoners.)

The conditions that prisoners face in solitary confinement are among some of the worse conditions that can be found in the American penal system. They have little to no human contact, little space, and little freedom. The cells are between 60 and 80 square feet, furnished with only a cot, toilet, sink, and a small slit for a window, allowing for little to no natural light. The door is steel with a small metal slot for food and for the guard to give orders and directions. There are often search cameras and automatic doors in the more modern prisons, furthering the lack of human contact that prisoners in solitary confinement have. The bright, fluorescent lights are never turned off; disrupting the prisoner’s circadian rhythm and further adding to the extreme stress the prisoner endures (Cloud, 2015). The cells are physically unhealthy and psychologically traumatizing. Prisoners in solitary confinement also receive psychiatric treatment infrequently, despite the psychological stresses that isolation can impose on them (Gordon, 2014). Prisoners in solitary confinement spend between 22-24 hours a day in their cell with little to no human contact or interaction (Gordon, 2014). Often times they do not have any reading material, television or radio access, property, or visitation rights. This lack of sensory material makes the isolation even more severe (Gordon, 2014). Prisoners often remain in these conditions for years at a time.

Solitary confinement introduces harsh conditions to prisoners and, if endured long enough, can cause mental illness of varying seriousness. Many studies show that isolation in such an environment for any period longer than ten days can cause psychological stress that can lead to hypertension, uncontrollable anger, hallucinations, emotional breakdowns, chronic depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors (Gordon, 2014).

The full extent of psychological stress and trauma that inmates face can be seen by the level of self-harm and suicide that is present in solitary confinement. Self-harm and suicide is prevalent all throughout the penal system, however it is much more prevalent in those that endure the extreme isolation of solitary confinement. “Inmates punished by solitary confinement were approximately 6.9 times as likely to commit acts of self-harm after we controlled for the length of jail stay, SMI, age, and race/ethnicity,” (Kaba, 2014). This also held true for potentially fatal self-harm, albeit with a slightly lower rate of 6.3 times (Kaba, 2014). It can be argued that these acts are simply manipulative in nature, in an attempt to be removed from solitary confinement. However, it is important to keep in mind that solitary confinement must have a very large impact on inmates if they resort to self-harm in order to leave. If inmates are harming themselves or attempting suicide, it speaks volumes to the state of their mental health in an isolated environment like solitary confinement.

Taking into consideration the level of psychological harm that segregation can cause to individuals i believe it is clear that it is more harmful to the individual than helpful. Let us next take into consideration what harm this can cause to society. Many inmates are released directly from solitary confinement into society, (lost the source, however I can find it and add it later if you need it). One study shows that 24.2 percent of prisoners in solitary confinement will reoffend within three years compared to the 20.5 percent for the general prison population (Gordon, 2014). Another study suggests that those that are sent straight back into the community from solitary confinement are more likely to reoffend than those that participated in step-down program before being released (Gordon, 2014). This can be explained by the lack of access to programs, treatments, and educational experiences that have been shown to reduce risk of recidivism. The lack of social bonds one has while incarcerated in solitary confinement may also cause stress that will lead to depression and rage. All of these things together can make it difficult to readjust to society, or even the general prison population, and cause these inmates to reoffend.

These are my main points as of this moment as to why solitary confinement is more harmful then helpful for our society and for the individuals that must suffer through it. This is why I propose to reduce and eventually eliminate its use as it is today.


Cloud, D., Drucker, E., Browne, A., & Parsons, J. (n.d.). Public Health and Solitary Confinement in the United States. Am J Public Health American Journal of Public Health, 18-26.

Gordon, S. (n.d.). Solitary Confinement, Public Safety, and Recidivism. University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, 47(2), 495-528.

Kaba, F., Lewis, A., Glowa-Kollisch, S., Hadler, J., Lee, D., Alper, H., . . . Venters, H. (n.d.). Solitary Confinement and Risk of Self-Harm Among Jail Inmates. Am J Public Health American Journal of Public Health, 442-447.



Solitary Confinement has been around ever since the 1970"s, it is the act in which an inmate is put into a room with only a cot, toilet, and sink. It usually used for punishment, inmates" own protection, or other inmates" protection. The prisoner is usually held for an average of 23 hours, depending on the severity of the situation.

Solitary Confinement, also called the SHU, is used mainly for the purpose of punishment for a prisoner. The prisoner will receive little to no human contact and can be held in there for as long as the officers see fit. So, the prisoner could spend up to a year in solitary confinement, the prisoner will usually be held for about 23 hours a day. Little or no personal items are able to be accessed when in the SHU. Solitary Confinement is not meant to be cruel, it is only meant as a form of punishment or safety.

When you are in prison, you are supposed to turn your life around. Do your time and never go back. That"s just what solitary confinement does, being in there allows one to think over their wrong doings. Being in Solitary Confinement will certainly build character over time.

Solitary Confinement is also a perfect way for a prisoner to truly serve their sentence. "So, solitary confinement would allow for sentences to be served more accurately in a morally appropriate fashion." Says the Anonymous author. People say that solitary confinement is one of the hardest ways to do time, which isn"t entirely wrong. Prisoners shouldn"t get the easy pass, they should have to serve their time, the hardest and toughest way.

To my last point, safety. Solitary Confinement provides safety, not just for themselves, but to all the other inmates and officers. They are of no danger to themselves or anyone else.

-I would like to thank my opponent for introducing such an interesting topic.
- I would also like to thank you for making a strong, reasonable argument.
Debate Round No. 2


I would like to thank my opponent for also providing a reasonable argument and I am glad for an opponent on a topic that I find especially interesting to me.

I would like to take one second to correct my opponent. Solitary confinement, in the United States at least, was implemented as early as 1826 (Bennion, 2015.) Also prisoners can spend many more years in segregation than just one. One prisoner in Colorado was kept in isolation for 16 years. (Knowles, 2015.)

I do concur that SHU (Special/Secure Housing Unit, for those that don't know) is primarily for punishing the prisoner. However, I believe that our society would benefit more from a rehabilitative approach than a punitive one. Prison is better implemented when it used, as you say, "to turn your life around." However, with SHU this isn't the case. It causes mental illness in those that do not already have problems and exacerbates mental illness in those that already suffer from mental health issues. I posit that SHU doesn't "build character" but rather it deteriorates character over time. According to Professor Craig Henry, there are five social pathologies that can be caused by solitary confinement. The first of which is “unprecedented totality of control,” where the prisoner feels the loss of all control and suffers from depression and frustration. The second is “chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair.” The third is the undermining of the prisoner’s sense of self. The fourth is disorientation and fright of social contact and interaction. Finally, the fifth pathology is intolerable levels of frustration, which can lead to anger and sudden, uncontrollable outbursts of rage (Gordon, 2014). I believe, and data seems to back my assumption, that this can cause inmates to become more violent and cause them to commit further crimes in the future. (See previous round)

To your last point, I agree that safety is a valid reason to maintain SHU, however I don't believe that it is helpful to the inmate needing protection, nor the prison population needing protection. By causing these inmates nearly irreparable psychological damage and making them more violent it poses a risk to both the inmate and the general population. Thus the reason I suggest improving conditions in SHU, especially for those simply seeking safety from gen. pop. (There is already a form of this in most prison systems, where they are afforded more rights and comforts than SHU inmates.) (Gordon, 2014)

Additional Sources:

Banning the Bing: Why Extreme Solitary Confinement is Cruel and Far too Unusual Punishment, Elizabeth Bennion, 2015, Indiana Law Journal, Vol 90:741

The Shameful Wall of Exclusion, Jessica Knowles, 2015, Washington Law Review, Vol90:893


I just want to address something quickly, I do agree with your proposition of making the conditions more suitable, but I don"t think that we should completely rid of the system.

Now, in your opening argument, you said, "They have little to no human contact, little space, and little freedom. The cells are between 60 and 80 square feet, furnished with only a cot, toilet, sink, and a small slit for a window, allowing for little to no natural light. The door is steel with a small metal slot for food and for the guard to give orders and directions. There are often search cameras and automatic doors in the more modern prisons, furthering the lack of human contact that prisoners in solitary confinement have" Yes, this is true, this splattered throughout the internet if you were to search solitary confinement, but you are describing these methods as rather inhumane. (Correct me if I"m wrong) These methods are considered punishments, these conditions are meant to punish the inmates. Which again, is the whole point of solitary confinement; to punish the inmates. So, these conditions you describe as wrong, are there for the soul purpose of punishing the inmates for their wrong doings. How is it right for a prisoner to go by without true punishment for committing a crime within the prison?

Throughout your whole argument, you mention the fact solitary confinement causes many issue. No one can argue against that, so I won"t even begin to try, but I will say, FOLLOW THE LAW AND THAT WONT HAPPEN TO YOU. You don"t get thrown into solitary confinement for having a pack of cigarettes, you might get thrown in a few days, weeks, or months for having drugs. Those issues you mentioned only develop after being in solitary confinement for a long period of time. For the people that have to serve out their sentences in SC (Solitary Confinement), they have committed heinous acts of injustice against our society. The SHU is used for punishment, and if they don"t want to suffer the horrible consequences of SC, then they shouldn"t commit the crime. It is completely fair and just that any person who commits a crime so horrible that they are sentenced to SC should in fact have to live with the conditions of SC. So, how can one argue that living in those conditions are unfair and wrong? Yet a better question we should ask ourselves, is how is it fair to let a vicious criminal get so many privileges?

Additional Sources:
Debate Round No. 3


My proposal is to first reduce the amount of use, while also making the conditions less harmful, and then eliminating the practice in the future. (I am thinking many years, between 5 and 10.)

These negative psychological effects can occur in as little as ten days, though some sources have suggested it can be even sooner than this. (See previous round for source on ten day mark) "To summarize, there is not a single published study of solitary or supermax-like confinement in which nonvoluntary confinement lasting for longer than 10 days, where participants were unable to terminate their isola- tion at will, that failed to result in negative psychological effects. The damag- ing effects ranged in severity and included such clinically significant symp- toms as hypertension, uncontrollable anger, hallucinations, emotional breakdowns, chronic depression, and suicidal thoughts and behavior." (Haney, 2003)

And I do agree that these conditions and methods are meant to punish the inmate, however what I am proposing is that it is more harmful to society than helpful. The point of punishing these individuals is to lessen the chance of recidivism, or to deter further offenses from other inmates. However, I have shown, with research to back my statements, that SC does not reduce recidivism and could possibly increase recidivism. (See previous rounds) There is also no evidence to suggest that it has any effect on future offenses by other individuals.

I agree that offenders should hold responsibility for their actions, however that is suggesting that all offenders are in SC for crimes. Some are in their for their own safety, some are in their for violating prison rules (some as small as not making their bed.) (My previous example of someone in SC for 16 years is an example of this.) Even some are thrown in there from the start of their prison sentence only to be proven innocent later. Also prisoners are not usually placed in SC for violent or "heinous crimes."In some jurisdictions, the majority of people in disciplinary segregation do not pose a threat to staff or other prisoners, but are placed in segregation for minor rule infractions." (Coud, 2015) I propose that we find a different punishment for offenders that are found guilty of an offense, other than SC.

SC holds no benefits for society and punishing an offender for vengeance alone is a waste of time and money. "According to figures compiled by the ACLU of Colorado, in 2010 it cost $14,933 to $21,485 more per inmate, per year to hold someone in administrative segregation in the state’s supermax prisons than in a regular maximum security prison ($42,642-$48,403 vs. $26,918 to $27,709). With 1,400 prisoners in administrative segregation statewide, the additional annual cost of solitary confinement in Colorado that year exceeded $20 million. " (Solitary Watch)

Simply saying that they should follow the law is a true statement, however it doesn't change the fact that SC is inefficient, ineffective, and harmful to society as well as the individual.

Concluding Statement:
My opponent has suggested that Solitary Confinement fulfills its purpose of punishing offenders and also suggests that this will cause the offender to be less likely to offend in the future. However I have provided evidence that this is a failed argument. SC is more likey to cause recidivism than it is to prevent it. It is also more likely to cause violence in prisons, (Gordon, 2014,) and cause or exacerbate mental illness in the prisoner that is put into SC. Solitary confinement is causing more problems than it is solving in our society and we cannot keep it simply as a punitive or vengeful measure. This is why I propose that we began phasing out SC in a controlled manner before eventually eliminating it from prisons in the United States.

I would like to thank my opponent for having a reasonable, strong argument and providing sources when it was necessary. Thank you for this debate and I appreciate your viewpoints and am glad to have heard them. Have a good day. (not sure where on the website, I got the PDF from a database)
Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and "Supermax" Confinement, Craig Haney, 2003, Crime and Delinquency, January


My proposal is that there should be no reduction to the time sentenced, however I believe that the conditions could certainly be improved to reduce the amount of health risks.

Beyond your whole argument, you used one major point, which I had said previously was completely true and that there was no way to argue against the fact that SC causes those health issues. Your main point was time in SC causes major health issues, and yes, all of it true. SC can take a toll on an inmate"s mental health, which again has been proven upon countless times. We must think of what causes these mental symptoms to occur. The only obvious answer is the conditions by which these inmates" live in and also what there regulations are.

If we could change just a few regulations on the subject of SC, the amount of mentally ill inmates would decline dramatically. Regulations such as human contact, time spent in per day, and maybe even more personal items. They could be offered more human contact daily, possibly lessen the amount of hours from 23 to 16 a day, and have more personal items in SC. I don"t propose that we cut down their sentences in SC, but make changes to way SC is done.

Concluding Statement:

My opponent has made the inmates who are in solitary confinement sound like victims. We must remember that these men, women, and yes, children too, are in there for a reason. For the ones who are serving 16 to 30, or even their whole prison sentence in SC, we must keep in mind that they clearly have committed a heinous crime. So we mustn"t think of them as victims, but rather consider them as hardcore criminals. Hardcore criminal who deserve to serve their time in the harshest ways possible.

By harshest ways possible, I absolutely in no way mean that they should serve their time in the current conditions and regulations that are in place for SC as of right now. To not let them be completely restricted of their freedoms, but to have a considerable amount of freedoms, which can be done my reforms. Which in fact, in some states, they are already being put in place. To conclude, we have to be clear on the idea of prison and SC. Prison is meant to restrict ones freedoms because of a crime they have committed, also so is SC as well. We all know that criminals don"t deserve the same freedoms as us, instead they need to pay the price of their crime. Solitary Confinement, after reformations, will no doubt, make inmates serve their true time.

Additional Sources:

-I would like to thank my opponent for introducing and executing a very well, organized argument. Pleasure debating with you.
Debate Round No. 4
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Posted by jonnyboy39 1 month ago
solitary confinment is good for people,who frankly are no better than animals.
Its ok for people to say "lets abolish it" ok,but you spend time with these people.
solitary confinment is a good "tool" in controlling hostile behavior
Posted by Subjectivetruth 4 months ago
First, if you are adding any qualifiers to your thinking you should try and disregard them, anybody can support any position if they are allowed to decide all the variables. So if you think you have to have earned a stay in solitary by crossing some major line, try to realize that there is no oversight involved and that guards who barely break minimum wage are the ones deciding how to implement punishment.

Solitary is given a bad reputation because it is used to create psychological disorder. tactics such as leaving the lights on 24 hours a day are justified as safety measures or something of the sort and thus are beyond discussion. Of course if you have simply decided that people in prison are no longer worth any consideration beyond a swift kick in the balls, then your position is clearly decided.
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Posted by CosmoJarvis 5 months ago
I think this argument, though debating the pros and cons of solitary confinement, also addresses whether criminals should be left to rot in prison cells, or to be rehabilitated to get an opportunity to become better people.
Posted by puns 6 months ago
If a prisoner has done something severe enough to land them self in solitary confinement, they are already at a bad mental state so it is not valid to make that comparison.
Posted by KnowledgeBot5 6 months ago
also, what specific punishments should a prisoner receive, when considering the crime he/she committed?
murder = life in a semi luxury prison, paid for by American tax payers
rape = 10 to 50yrs depending on the severity
robbery = pat on the back, job well done, you can now serve 3 to 6yrs in this finely furnished prison cell
--- how is this punishment? --- you do know, that this life in prison, for many prisoners, is far better then the one they use to live outside of prison, right?
Posted by KnowledgeBot5 6 months ago
based on your supporting comments below, why exactly would it not make more sense, to just let em go? i think you ppl are missing the point and purpose of the punishment, do you seriously think and feel (without experiencing it yourselves) that getting thrown into jail, is punishment? compared to the life the criminal was already living? (harming, hurting or killing others) you do know, that natural selection, would eliminate you, and retain the criminal, per survival of the fittest, if it werent for laws and justice
Posted by Smake 7 months ago
I take it this is a test drive for you? Real easy to support on a college level.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Emmarie 1 year ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: RFD - Pro's statement that, " SC is inefficient, ineffective, and harmful to society as well as the individual" he backs up with sources and Con even agrees by the end of the debate that conditions need to be improved for prisoners in SC. Cons argument that SC is used to punish a prisoner is negated by Pro's claim that the current conditions of SC do more harm than good to the individual as well as society at large. BoP was equally shared and Pro made more convincing arguments that SC needs to be phased out because it it a costly and ineffective method of punishment, that can cause mental and physical health problems to inmates for sometimes very arbitrary reasons. Con doesn't negate that not all inmates in SC are heinous criminals.