Here’s an NBC News story about two inmates who’ve spent 36 years–that’s not a typo–in solitary confinement in Louisiana’s Angola prison. My first legal job involved representing prisoners in the Massachusetts prison system, and I had many clients in solitary. The first client I represented in a disciplinary hearing spent five years in solitary, which I considered to be inconceivably long–and I represented that client in 1975, an inconceivably long time ago, when the subjects of this story had already been in solitary for almost three years. Like most worthwhile TV news stories this one deserves more depth. Full disclosure: I am related by marriage to the the producer of the story.

13 Replies to “Solitary”

  1. David Randall Post author

    In Massachusetts solitary confinement is imposed by prison officials for violation of prison rules. It is not imposed by a court as part of a criminal sentence. I think a sentence of 36 years to solitary confinement could be challenged in itself as cruel and unusual punishment.

  2. Alex

    my question, maybe someone knows, isn’t solitary confinement used as punishment after you are in prison. I’m not sure if using the evidence from these prisoners initial case is useful when evaluating how harsh their solitary confinement is. There has to be more to the story, something had occurred inside the prison to cause them to go to confinement.

  3. Karim

    Kind of a side note I would like to add to what I said earlier.

    Some argue that this is worse than the death penalty. Can’t some also argue that the costs to keep these prisoners in solitary confinement are much higher than executing them?

    I don’t mean to sound heartless and this does not represent my opinion about capital punishment.

  4. Geetika

    When i said earlier that in solitary confinement prisoners donot have the chance to reflect or repent, I meant that they will be able to reflect in a much better way about what they did, if instead of being kept in solitary confinement where they just stare at the 4 walls around them, they are made to work in special areas, which compels them to think about their crime and feel sorry for the misery that they have caused to others.

  5. zebra33

    I must say I’m rather shocked at the lack of compassion in many of the posts. I would like to suggest to those that “think these prisoners deserve the way they are being treated” to read up on two topics, the first being prison conditions and the second being the number of innocent people in jails, particularly those convicted 10 or more years ago in the south. I worked for a short time at a law firm in New Orleans called ipno (innocence project New Orleans) which works to exonerate prisoners who are genuinely innocent. Most of those exonerated were prisoners of the exact prison referred to in this video clip, Angola. You can read about some of their cases on their website:

    I agree that there are probably plenty of guilty people in jail who do not deserve to see the light of day, but I would just like to encourage fellow BU students (and others who are posting on this blog) to do your research before you jump to conclusions. It’s easy, looking in from the outside, to point fingers and say these people deserve to be treated poorly. Once you sit and listen to an exonerated prisoner tell you about the time he spent in jail, what he did and what he thought about, how his family for years and years fought to collect evidence, and the struggles faced with re-entry into society you see these sorts of discussions/debates (those related to prisoners and their rights) in a slightly new light.

  6. Jimson

    In regard to a previously made statement that in solitary confinement, prisoners have no chance to reflect I think that the point of solitary confinement is to provide prisoners with the means and times to reflect on their actions and seek forgiveness. Nonetheless, 36 years is a long time and perhaps the prisons should set up a regimented evaluation system so that as stated in the news clip they may eventually be transferred to different housing. People do change and should have the opportunity to show that they are deserving of a second chance.

    The defense attorney in the video states that, “These men are a threat to no one”. They are quite obviously a threat if they somehow ended up in prison in the first place. However, since the bloody knife was not tied to either of them and the fingerprint did not match either inmate they should not be facing such a strict punishment whereas they have not been found guilty based on the evidence.

  7. JesseR

    @Alex: I agree, and I’ve always been of the mind that inmates could be doing work instead of just sitting around doing whatever it is that prisoners do all day. Not to create a system of government-run sweatshops in America instead of China, but seriously I’d rather have inmates do the work (and get paid a wage) instead of children. When they get out they can have something on their resume, and earn even more money, thereby becoming productive members of society once again.

  8. Jackie Hodgson

    I don’t see how solitary confinement for any amount of time (especially 36 years!?) is humane. To me it seems like a form of torture, forcing somebody to live in a room the size of most bathrooms with no windows and taking away all human contact. I believe that prisons should focus on reforming prisoners lives through work and gaining economic benefit for society instead of shutting them off from all human contact.

  9. Karim Saab

    I think that solitary confinement is one of the most effective ways to punish a prisoner. Although it seems that 36 years would surely drive the prisoner crazy.

    It might even be safe to argue that such a long solitary confinement sentence can be worse than capital punishment.

  10. Alex

    the prison system is so backwards that this does not surprise me one bit. Human life is valuable-even if you are spending life in prison. Prison reform is valuing inmates and helping create a better society, but this situation seems to be ridiculous. How on earth can somebody justify solitary confinement for that long..I just can’t grasp that

  11. MJKenyon

    I hate to be so brutally honest, but what you have here is two black men accused of murdering a white man, not to mention a prison guard, in 1972 in Louisiana. Given those circumstances, does it surprise me that they have been in solitary confinement for almost four decades? Of course not. Do I believe that such a punishment is fair? Of course not. Knowing little about the actual facts of this case, and therefore the likelihood of whether these two men are actually guilty or not, it nonetheless sounds to me like they themselves are victims of an area of U.S. history which, as this story demonstrates, haunts us to this very day.

  12. Geetika

    The purpose of punishment is to make the wrong doer realise his mistake. To do so, he needs to see the misery that he has put his victims through and repent and reflect. In solitary confinement, these prisoners have no such chance for reflection or redemption. They are just as good as dead, it is like being sentenced to a death penalty, which is debated as being cruel and unusual.

  13. Howe Lin

    If the inmates were truly guilty, then I don’t believe their time spent in solitary confinement is cruel and unusual. I wouldn’t grant prisoners the sympathies they probably failed to offer their victims. It’s probably the most fitting punishment short of capital punishment.

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