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‘The Hole’ Exposed: Voices on Solitary Confinement in the American Prison System

By Sarah Schnitman


Solitary confinement, as practiced within the United States penal system, is a form of imprisonment that is rarely studied within the field of anthropology due to the nature of isolated prisoners as highly inaccessible subjects. Details about the physical appearance of such isolation units and the range of effects reported over the years by inmates and activist organizations have been largely veiled to the general public. However, scholars, political bodies, and the press began to pick up conditions of solitary confinement as an issue of inhumane treatment and torture. Although forms of isolated imprisonment have been used in the United States since the late nineteenth century, solitary confinement has grown to be a highly disputed practice within the last forty years. This thesis takes an indepth look into the goals and efforts of people within a growing national community who are connected by a shared aim of abolishing solitary confinement. This community seeks to spread awareness about what it believes to be a brutal and antiquated violation of human rights as its support base grows within the larger social justice movement of prison reform. I argue for the importance of bringing to light a new body of stories to better understand the parallel activism work undertaken in multiple fields in opposition to solitary confinement. This study exposes the practice through the lens of ex-prisoners, activists, filmmakers, lawyers, professors, and architects. These individuals are based in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Arizona, and California. Their voices echo the wider range of impact that solitary confinement can have on individuals both on the inside and outside of prison walls, demonstrating that both perspectives merit attention

Topics: Anthropology, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Social and Cultural Anthropology
Publisher: Digital Commons @ Connecticut College
Year: 2014
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