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"Solitary" (The Survey)

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[page 8]

school and he was, perhaps, the most positive of all in this view.

It is difficult to see how the words can be taken otherwise. It will be noticed that solitary confinement on full diet is nowhere listed as a punishment. In view of the very specific enumeration of permissible punishments, it seems reasonable to suppose that this would have been included if it had been in the mind of the framer; especially if it had been thought of as an additional punishment to solitary confinement on restricted diet. It seems a likely interpretation that in the mind of the framer solitary confinement and restricted diet went together forming one punishment, and that it was not contemplated that one would be used without the other.

[caption to photo]

From a drawing by Murice Becker

Prisoners returning from work outside the walls.

There is an armed guard for every five of these men; this daily scene is one of the best evidences of the machinery of repression that still makes the “barracks” a prison

Even granting, however, that a reasonable canon of interpretation permits one to assume that if a given punishment is allowed, a less severe punishment of the same character may be used, we are face to face with the fact that fourteen days in solitary on full diet immediately following fourteen days on restricted diet is an addition to the severity of punishment; and when this is followed by still further periods of confinement, the increased severity goes beyond all bounds. Finally, we come to the last sentence. The phrase “on bread and water” is there used for the first time. Presumably this is simply explanatory of the phrase “restricted diet” used above, and has no further significance. (Actually the two mean the same thing at the barracks.) Instead, theretofore, of the last sentence meaning that bread and water may be continued for fourteen days and must not be repeated until a similar interval shall have elapsed, the more probable meaning is that solitary confinement itself may not exceed fourteen days, and the words “on bread and water” are used either as explaining “restricted diet” above or merely as constituting, in the mind of the framer, an invariable part of punishment in solitary, from which no departure would ever be made.

Strength is lent to this interpretation by the fact that at neither of the two branches of the barracks does the practice exist of keeping men in solitary for more than fourteen days.

It therefore seems probable that the Ft. Leavenworth barracks is violating the regulations of the adjutant-general.


Whether it is violating these regulations or not, it is subjecting men to a punishment, the effects of which it cannot accurately know and the severity of which it cannot wholly control. A term in solitary that means little to one man may be an ordeal to another; to a third it may cause the beginnings of a nervous breakdown. Little attention is paid to any such difference in temperament in prescribing solitary nor is the length of confinement suited to the offender, but rather to the offense. The department of psychiatry and sociology is not consulted as to which man would be benefited by solitary confinement. To be sure, a doctor visits the men in solitary once a day. Since this practice is not extended to the main body of prisoners, it may be regarded as an acknowledgement that solitary has its dangers. Moreover, the visits of the doctor are something of a hoke to the prisoners, who content that he cannot, or does not, detect the beginnings of a disturbance to the nervous system, or of that mental vacuity that is likely to follow days of isolation and idleness.

Nevertheless, the doctor’s visits are not unproductive of results. Records in the executive offie show that eleven men were transferred direct from solitary to the prison hospital in a period of two months last fall. One of these records bear the following notation:

To solitary To hospital

10—2—18 11—5—18

11—10—18 11—22—18

When I asked what this meant, I was told that the prisoner had entered solitary October 2, 1918; that he had been transferred from his solitary cell to the hospital November 5; that

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