Many of us take for granted that the importance of mental health has become common knowledge. However, a new mental health concern has attracted the attention of critics in the past several weeks. A method of discipline in prisons, called “civilized torture,” is facing media scrutiny for being ethically problematic.
The category “civilized torture” includes extended solitary confinement and other forms of non-physical discipline. Although these techniques have been around for hundreds of years and many have proven to be effective to some extent, critics argue that civilized torture crosses ethical boundaries.
Most Americans are against physical torture for criminals. The general consensus is that it would be monstrous to even consider harming people physically. However, when it comes to mental manipulation, the opinion lacks unity, and our indifference is impacting the well-being of U.S. citizens. “In prison-crazed America, state violence is exercised not through bloodshed but through civilized torture,” an Al-jazeera article stated.
Take a moment to realize that this method of discipline is not a technique used on a faraway island by military forces - that is an issue for another article. Isolation and other forms of “civilized torture” are human rights violations occurring on U.S. soil. Recent studies have focused on the impact of solitary confinement on prisoners in New York, California, Texas and many other locations across the country. These studies have found that solitary confinement correlates with negative impacts on mental health and increased thoughts of suicide.
Many critics argue that once a person becomes imprisoned, they should lose many of their personal rights. However, incarcerated Americans do not only lose their freedom; they also find that many aspects of their life are no longer in their own control, and they experience a loss of agency. It’s only reasonable that Americans want to see perpetrators of injustice punished. However, I contend that the very essence of humanity is acknowledging the inherent value of other human beings, and in order for us to survive violations of justice, we must respect the humanity of others, regardless of offense.
We can sugarcoat it all we want, but at some point we must confront the reality that “civilized torture” is, indeed, a form of violence. Extended periods of solitary confinement and other non-physical methods of discipline cause inhumane mental strain on subjects, and that mental harm can have long-lasting effects.
There are steps we must take in response to this human rights violation. We must raise awareness of the issue through constructive discourse, and we must review the research surrounding methods of discipline within the context of prisons. Without belittling concerns about economics, practicality and social justice, we must consider the weight of our actions against our fellow citizens and the long-lasting implications of our justice system that may impact those citizens’ lives for years to come.
Amy Mihelich ’16 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Forest Lake, Minn. She majors in English and political science.