The second level of loss of liberty occurs when offenders are put in solitary confinement. Sensory stimulation is quite limited and inmates may, in some facilities, be allowed to read a book while in their cells or exercise for one half hour per day outside of the cell. Studies of the effects of solitary confinement generally show that short periods in isolation do not have detrimental repercussions on the mental health of inmates. Prolonged periods of isolation may have negative impact on inmates as indicated by studies conducted by Cormier and Williams (1966) and Grassian (1983)(cited in Bonta & Gendreau, 1990), but because adequate controls were not included in these studies, more studies need to be conducted before a definitive conclusion on the effects of solitary confinement can be made. Many mental health experts would argue that solitary confinement is, for the majority of offenders who spend long periods in solitary, a psychologically damaging punishment. Dr. Henry Weinstein, a psychiatrist who has studied American prisoners in solitary confinement, discovered that such extreme isolation results in a variety of psychological symptoms ranging from "memory loss to severe anxiety to hallucinations to delusions and, under the [most] severe cases of sensory deprivation, people go crazy" (CNN, 1998, p. 2). The almost complete loss of liberty that solitary confinement entails is dehumanizing and may hurt the inmate's potential for rehabilitation.
The world of the inmate is characterized by a multitude of rules and commands designed to control his or her behaviour. Yet, some argue that the inmate is not much worse off than the individual in the free community who is regulated in a great many aspects of his or her life by the dictates of custom. However, regulation by a bureaucratic staff is felt far differently than regulation by custom. Most prisoners express an intense hostility against their far-reaching dependence on the decisions of corrections officials, which is what makes their restricted ability to make choices one of the major deprivations of imprisonment (Sykes, 1966). Long term inmates often lose their sense of self efficacy once autonomy is taken away. Offenders are told where to live and when and what to eat, they are required to wear regulation clothing, perform certain jobs and follow numerous rules (Santos, 1995). Self motivation and personal achievement are neither facilitated nor reinforced among inmates.
Rigid and sometimes incomprehensible rules have always been basic features of incarceration. Inflexibility and unresponsiveness to the concerns of prisoners often results from bureaucratic indifference, whereby events which seem important or vital to those at the bottom of the heap are viewed with an increasing lack of concern with each step upward. The rules, commands and decisions that are imposed on inmates are not accompanied by explanations, as many corrections officers feel that they do not need to justify their demands and actions; inmates are to do what they are told and not ask questions. Thwarting the inmate's ability to make choices and refusing to provide an explanation for prison rules and regulations involves a profound threat to the inmate's self image by reducing the inmate to the weak, helpless, dependent status of childhood (Sykes, 1966). Loss of autonomy can also entail a serious threat to the inmate's self image as a fully accredited member of adult society.
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