Washington Post columnist George Will, a politically conservative columnist whom I often agree with about limited government and fiscal responsibility, but often disagree with on human rights issues, today posted a thoughtful and quite pointed op-ed on the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. He clearly considers it a type of torture. If I had not already come to the same conclusion previously, I think he would have convinced me in this article.
I won’t repeat what Wills said: you can read it for yourself. I have been a human rights activist for decades, however, and yet was not aware of just how greatly use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons has grown over my adult lifetime, since the early 1980s. In the late 1970s, a single facility used solitary confinement minimally, only for “the worst of the worst” prisoners — those who presented a direct threat to the safety and lives of other inmates and staff in the prison and who could not be contained by any lesser measure. Now, in 2013, solitary confinement exists in at least 90 U.S. prisons and is the common experience of violent felons across the country. Some have been in solitary confinement for *decades*.
I’ve mourned and raved at the willingness of Americans to tolerate and even support torture of our enemies during the wars against Al Qaeda and other international, mostly “Islamic” terrorists. (The quotes are because I am familiar with Islam, know Muslims, and won’t insult them by implying that Islam sanctions what the monsters in Al Qaeda and related organizations believe and do.) As Wills’ op-ed points out, though, America has spent thirty years growing to tolerate a type of torture that was first recognized as torture in the 1800s. :/ It isn’t surprising that the same people who support waterboarding of terrorism suspects also happily shut violent felons up alone for life.
There’s plenty of unjustified criticism of America out there right now. But on this issue, we need to repent. Seriously.