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If You Thought “The Game” Was Terrifying, Consider the “Hole” Where Michael Douglas’ Son is Currently Locked Alone

Sarah Solon,
Communications Strategist,
Hilary Krase,
ACLU National Prison Project
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January 28, 2013

Celebrity gossip blogs and major papers are reporting that Cameron Douglas, the son of actor Michael Douglas, is currently being held in solitary confinement, also known as the "hole."

Let’s take a second and think about what that means. It means that Cameron, and the 80,000 others subjected to this torturous practice nationwide, will likely be locked alone in a cell for 22-24 hours day. It means that Cameron will be subjected to a form of psychological pressure so intense that it has been shown to dramatically heighten suicide rates. It means that Cameron will likely be fed through a slot in the door.

And, if Cameron is like the tens of thousands of other prisoners struggling in solitary, it means that his chances of rehabilitation will be severely diminished. Prisoners held in solitary confinement experience negative psychological effects such as depression and hallucinations; some exhibit revenge fantasies and decreased brain function.

The popular myth is that this type of sustained and horrific punishment is somehow merited – that it is necessary to control the most violent offenders or the “worst-of-the-worst.” So, what did Cameron do? Douglas is serving a ten-year sentence in a federal prison in Pennsylvania for possessing and dealing drugs. And why is he being subjected to the most intense form of punishment on the books, other than the death penalty? He allegedly failed a drug test.

The myth that solitary confinement is ever appropriate needs to be debunked. Given its devastating psychological effects, solitary confinement is clearly not appropriate for Cameron. But Cameron is by no means an exception. Take for example that the majority of prisoners held in isolated confinement are cognitively disabled or have severe mental illness.

The reasons why solitary is never the answer do not end there. Indeed, more and more states are joining a national trend that recognizes solitary confinement as a profound waste of taxpayer money. Take for example the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), which is just the most recent state to close its supermax prison, Tamms, in part because it was the most expensive facility to operate. According to the IDOC, it cost an average of over $64,800 a year – more than three times the state average – to house a prisoner at Tamms.

It’s time for the states that still operate supermax facilities to change their tune; solitary confinement is simply too psychologically harmful and too cost ineffective to be justifiable.

It is not clear how long Cameron will be held in solitary, but we should remember that some prisoners are held in isolation for years at a time. How long will the 80,000 others like Cameron be subjected to this practice? Those held in solitary confinement may experience substantial social isolation, but their suffering and the conditions stemming from it are far from an isolated incident.

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