Solitary confinement: the historical and contempory practice

Listen

Guests:  Sean Kelley, Jules Lobel and Shirley Moore Smeal

There are upwards of 25,000 prisoners in the United States who are housed in solitary confinement units, some of whom reside in these units for decades. In Pennsylvania, where solitary confinement as a prison practice was pioneered during the 19th century at Eastern State Penitentiary, the practice continues: roughly 5% of Pennsylvania prisoners are held in solitary confinement, officially known as “Restricted Housing Units.” While proponents of the practice argue that solitary confinement is necessary to ensure the safety of other prisoners or safety of the isolated individual himself, critics argue that the psychological strain of solitary confinement is pernicious to the point of being “torture.” We’ll hear about the origin and history of solitary confinement from SEAN KELLEY, the Senior Vice President and Director of Programming and Public Relations at Eastern State Penitentiary. Then, we’ll explore the contemporary controversies surrounding these isolation practices with JULES LOBEL, University of Pittsburgh Law Professor and President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and SHIRLEY MOORE SMEAL, Executive Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.