rehabilitation

Solitary Confinement: Immoral, Ineffective

The Rev. Laura Markle Downton describes solitary confinement to conference parti
The Rev. Laura Markle Downton describes solitary confinement to conference participants. Image via RNS/Perisphere Media

They’re small spaces — sometimes 7 feet wide, 12 feet long. And they’re where some inmates are held, sometimes for days, sometimes for decades.

Religious leaders across the country are speaking out against solitary confinement cells that they say should never be used by juveniles or the mentally ill and rarely by the general prison population.

The debate is taking on new resonance as a Boston jury weighs the death penalty — or a life sentence with 23 hours a day in solitary confinement — for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the convicted Boston Marathon bomber.

When the Fighting Stops

MARIE-LOUISE IS a 34-year-old single mother of three living in Bujumbura, the capital of the southeast African nation of Burundi. When she was 15 years old, she joined a rebel movement during the civil war in her country. “Following my demobilization,” she said, “my family welcomed me back warmly, but my neighbors did not think much of me. I still go around with a firearm ... Even my old friends find it hard to trust me. I have been branded because I am a female ex-combatant.”

Around the world, several armed conflicts are showing signs of winding down, at long last—there is renewed hope that the M23 rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo will stop fighting; the government and the FARC rebels in Colombia are making progress in negotiations toward peace after 65 years of civil war; the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have agreed on a pact to end the fighting.

These events bring into focus the tremendous challenge of reintegrating former combatants into society. The process is especially difficult when they have been forced to commit atrocities against their own people. Think of Guatemala, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia, to name just a few.

The unique characteristics of each conflict make generalizations difficult, but in the stabilization and peace-building process, attention must be given to a complex of transitional justice issues, such as truth-telling and accountability for human rights violations. Other important factors include disarmament, the reintegration and rehabilitation of former combatants, security sector reform, economic justice and jobs, gender equality, the impact of the armed conflict on children (including child soldiers), and the political context.

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From the Archives: November-December 1999

THIS STORY IS about the loss of a war and the sin and insanity of continuing to wage that war with the same weapon: prisons. From the well-meaning but naive “solution” of “just say no” to the equally well-meaning but equally naive mandatory minimum sentences, we have been defeated in our War on Drugs.

When we finally realized that we had lost the undeclared war in Vietnam, those remaining in Saigon climbed to the highest building and clung to the last helicopter leaving the country. Now it is time for the metaphor to be exercised in the drug war. We have lost.

But there are those who will not admit defeat. Who are they? First and foremost they are the ones who make enormous profits from what is now recognized as the prison-industrial complex.

Locking people up is big business. Not just for construction companies but for such private enterprises as the Corrections Corporation of America, a Tennessee-based company that is leading the way in the effort to turn all prisons over to private enterprise. Last year its net profit was $53.9 million. Since corporate prisons make their profits based on the daily number of prisoners, longer sentences are the strategy. Not rehabilitation. Not justice. 

Will Campbell was a preacher, activist, and author of Race and the Renewal of the Church (1962) and Brother to a Dragonfly (1977) when this article appeared.

Image: Cannabis plant, Hamik / Shutterstock.com

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