Let me assure you from firsthand experience, not as an inmate but as a former superintendent of Massachusetts’s largest prison, that solitary confinement is indeed cruel. Unfortunately, as David Cole documented in his Oct. 25 op-ed column, “Decades in solitary,” it is no longer unusual. What was initiated by the Quakers in 1829 as a closely monitored rehabilitation system of penitence quickly morphed into a system of retribution administered by prison administrators and staff as a means of “controlling” the inmate population.

Clearly, there are inmates who, for their own safety or that of others, cannot be allowed in the general inmate population. To rely on solitary confinement as the primary means of dealing with those problems, though, reflects not so much on the inmates as it does on the individuals running our prisons. To call our system of incarceration in the United States “corrections,” is, with few exceptions, akin to calling electric shock therapy an attitude adjustment.

George H. Bohlinger III, Washington