Due to the overcrowded prison system, facilities are resorting to throwing extra beds in solitary cells — packing prisoners in like sardines.
The Marshall Project and NPR brought to light that this inhumane practice is widespread throughout U.S. prisons.
The Marshall Project details the horrific situation in story titled, “The Deadly Consequences of Solitary With a Cellmate:”
“While there are no national statistics on the number of people confined in double-cell 'solitary,' at least 18 states double-up a portion of their restrictive housing, and over 80 percent of the 10,747 federal prisoners in solitary have a cellmate...”
“In Menard [a prison in Illinois], double-celled prisoners are placed in rooms that are a foot-and-a-half narrower than those in general population (too narrow, one inmate has said, to do push-ups). Gerard Schultz, who was double celled at Menard for a cumulative eight months, explained in a letter that he had to create a schedule with his cellie to determine when someone could stand up.”
These deplorable living conditions are tantamount to torture. One prisoner, who murdered his cellmate, compared the experience to “wearing a corset made of nails and explosives, constantly.”
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In addition to the cells being entirely too small for two adult inhabitants, the old rooms are also deteriorating. Inmates are forced to sleep on beds caked with rust, dust festering around the room, and stains from mold and corrosion, according to The Marshall Project.
Furthermore, they often pair up inmates with others who are known to be violent. This was the case with David Sesson and Bernard Simmons, two Menard inmates serving life sentences.
Sesson was known as a “bug” who was notorious for fighting with cellmates and had even attempted to strangle one of his former roommates before guards brought Simmons to his cell. After being in the same room for less than six hours, Sesson killed Simmons.
“We've done this utterly bizarre thing, which is to put two people in cells that were built for one and leave them both in there for 23 or more hours a day,” said Craig Haney, a psychologist who has studied solitary for more than 30 years. “The frustration and anger that’s generated by being in isolation is intensified by having to navigate around another person’s habits, trials, and tribulations.”
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President Barack Obama recently banned solitary confinement for juveniles. He wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post that solitary confinement “doesn’t make us safer. It is an affront to our humanity.”
Obama’s assessment is spot on, and while it will probably be a long time coming before the prison system does away with solitary confinement for all inmates, the dangerous and dehumanizing practice of double-bunking solitary cells needs to be shut down urgently.