Experiment in Solitary: National Geographic

This show will air This Sunday, April 11 at 7pm Eastern Time on the National Geographic Channel.

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Solitary Watch Watches National Geographic’s Experiment in Solitary Confinement

April 2, 2010

by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

As we wrote earlier, it’s hard to say whether the National Geographic Channel’s treatment of solitary confinement will do more harm than good. In addition to an upcoming episode of “Explorer” on the subject, the NG Channel is hosting an ”experiment” that promises to provide a “live window into the solitary experience,” in which three subjects spend a week in faux lockdown cells (unless they want to leave earlier), with cameras streaming live video to the public and the “prisoners” providing updates on Twitter.

The potential good comes from the evidence of psychological damage that will probably surface even in the fresh-faced young volunteers who spend a mere week in the pristine “cells.” (And to its credit, the NG Channel’s site makes an effort to put their experience in broader context.)

The potential harm comes from the audience thinking what they watch on the live video stream bears any resemblance to the actual experience of prisoners in solitary confinement–which is far worse, in ways too numerous to count. After observing the NG experiment for a week, viewers could easily conclude that solitary confinement is extremely unpleasant, but falls short of constituting cruel and unusual punishment–and is far from the torture some critics say it is.  If so, they would be basing their conclusions on faulty evidence.

First of all, hardly anyone spends just a week in solitary. Used for “disciplinary” purposes, spells in solitary can last anywhere from several weeks to several years. Many of the inmates who end up in solitary are mentally ill; others (including many children) are there for their own “protection,” but nonetheless endure the same cruel conditions.

In addition, some 25,000 American prisoners live in long-term or permanent lockdown, which often stretches to decades: Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, of the Angola 3, have spent most of the past 37 years in solitary; Tommy Silverstein has spent an uninterrupted 27 years in solitary under a “no human contact” order; Syed Fahad Hashmi, who is accused of offering material support (in the form of clothing) to terrorists, has spent nearly three years in ultra-isolation under “Special Administrative Measures,” though he has yet to be convicted of a crime…

(Worth the rest of the article to follow this back )

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