The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Another reason to end solitary confinement

The interior of a solitary confinement cell at New York’s Rikers Island jail. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)

The Feb. 17 editorial noting the cruelty of solitary confinement, “Solitary confinement is torture,” made a persuasive argument for opposing the practice because of its inhumanity. That alone should be sufficient grounds for ending it in all states. That has not been the case, unfortunately.

In addition to the cruelty of prisoner isolation, another reason for ending the use of solitary, one not cited in the editorial, is the cost. The New York Times reported: “Segregation units can be two to three times as costly to build and, because of their extensive staffing requirements, to operate as conventional prisons are.” The Vera Institute of Justice reported: “The estimated daily cost per inmate at the federal administrative maximum (supermax) facility was $216.12 compared to $85.74 to house people in the general prison population. In 2003, the daily per capita costs of operating a supermax prison in Ohio were estimated at two-to-three times that of regular security units — $149 per day compared to $63 per day, with one corrections officer for every 1.7 prisoners in supermax compared to one for every 2.5 in less restricted housing.”

The cruelty of solitary confinement is unacceptable, as is the cost to taxpayers for funding the cruelty. This year in Virginia, S.B. 108 can end the cruelty of isolating the incarcerated. The bill has passed in the Virginia Senate and is now pending in the House of Delegates.

Robert Stewart, Chantilly

The writer is coordinator of public affairs for Social Action Linking Together and a member of the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement.