Time to Rethink Solitary Confinement & Death Row?

Thursday, March 06, 2014

An immigrant sleeps in his 'segregation cell' at the Adelanto Detention Facility on November 15, 2013 in Adelanto, California. Guards said he had been put in disciplinary confinement for fighting. (John Moore/Getty)

There are currently 80,000 people being held in solitary confinement across America. Many of these prisoners have been there for years without any human contact, while others have spent decades in isolation. In an effort to understand what these prisoners are feeling, Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Rick Raemisch submitted himself to 20 hours of “administration segregation,” more commonly known as solitary confinement.

His predecessor at CDC, Tom Clements, began this work over a year ago until he was assassinated last March, ironically by a gang member recently released from solitary confinement.

Raemisch’s experience left him with a deep desire to rethink solitary confinement and the lack of reintegration involved in prisoner release. In 2012, 140 prisoners were released directly into the public. Last year, 70 were released, and this year two have already been released. Raemisch testified on the topic before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the February.

Three Oscar-winners also took action to explore how prisoners are feeling behind bars. Documentarian Alex Gibney, narrator and actress Susan Sarandon, and producer Robert Redford, coalesced to create a special series for CNN called “Death Row Stories.” From stories of the wrongly-convicted, to the bigger story of the morality of capital punishment as a whole, the team gives viewers a look seldom seen of the justice system.

The eight-part miniseries “explores the fallibility in the application of the ultimate criminal penalty: Capital punishment.” What started as a just another project became something much greater as the filmmakers found and recorded stories of innocent prisoners on death row and the strangers—such as Joyce Ride, mother of astronaut Sally ride—who helped free them before execution.


Alex Gibney and Rick Raemisch

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman and Kristen Meinzer


T.J. Raphael


Michael Petersen

Comments [3]


In "treatment centers" they often use "seclusion rooms" as punishment for disobeying. Picture one of those solitary confinement cells, without a bed, blanket, sink, toilet, ANYTHING except a bright light and grimy brick walls with a hard floor, often for 24 hours at a time. (they give you a plastic bottle to pee in)

They talk about prisons being like treatment centers, well most treatment centers are like prisons. Except its the "staff" you must fear more then your fellow "inmates" and you never have to do a single crime to get locked up, you can even be a 6+ year old kid.

Mar. 07 2014 06:38 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

My new pitch to Hollywood: How about a story about an executive director of a Penitentiary who puts himself in isolation in order to understand the Prisoners, and the Prisoners take over and leave him in the cell.

Mar. 06 2014 12:24 PM
Jessie Henshaw from Way Uptown

John, Your spokesperson pointed to "the system" and how justice has become a competitive game, appearing to seek doing harm rather than preventing it in many cases.

What he missed is the deeper point, that "the whole truth and nothing but the truth" has been allowed to change meaning. In a competitive system what the "whole truth" naturally comes to mean is "the maximum tolerable deception". That "the whole truth" naturally becomes "maximum deception" and has, I think, also deeply undermined the rule of law in lots of other ways, in torture of political, advertising, fiduciary duty, etc., throughout our culture.

The alternative is actually simple, to raise the standard of truth we use, to "not misleading" from "not disprovable". It's actually the "not disprovable" standard that causes the version of "the truth" we end up with in a competitive system becoming "maximum deception", and **from all sides**. That's what happened historically I think, and how our words got perverted.

I think we need to save and preserve the competitive system of justice. It just needs to be based on a more truthful definition of the truth, "not misleading".

Mar. 06 2014 10:03 AM

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