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Outline for speech on the effects of Solitary Confinement

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1150
  • Category: Prison

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GAINING AND MAINTAINING FAVORABLE ATTENTION: Alone. In a cell. For days. Or decades. Today more then 80,000 Americans are in solitary confinement (National Geographic). Cut off from human contact. Subject to what might be the most extreme prison environment ever designed. Some say it’s the only way to handle the worst prisoners. Other’s say it amounts to psychological torture worse then any physical abuse.

RELATING THE TOPIC TO THE AUDIENCE: Ever been completely alone? Not even strangers around. These people are Absolutely Alone. Often for years at a time. Imagine going 2..5.. maybe 13 years without being outside.. Seeing any sunlight. Feeling the wind. Or seeing the sky. “Man wasn’t made for this. We’re physical creatures” . “It’s like you’re stranded like in cast-away. You start talking to a volleyball. That’s like how you start to feel if you’re in there too long.”

RELATING THE TOPIC TO THE PRESENTER: I have studied psychology and loneliness, researched solitary confinement. I have worked with inmates before, and also have many friends in the criminal justice program I have talked to.

PREVIEWING THE MESSAGE: Being in solitary confinement can have devastated effects on people. Today I will talk about some of those effects and examine how solitary confinement works and how well it actually accomplishes what it is designed to do.

-Transition- Let’s start by examining what exactly the condition are like in Solitary confinement.


I. FIRST MAIN POINT: To understand how it might be traumatizing, we have to understand the environment they are trapped in.A. With only 15-minute computer controlled shower and 1 hour of exercise alone. They spend 23 hours a day alone in 8×10 cell. Every detail is carefully designed to minimize social interaction. Meals are brought to in-mates through slots in their cell doors. Average stay is 2 years.B. “Loneliness is very much like pain. It has evolved over time to change our behavior so that we connect with others, which is necessary for our survival.” – (John Cacioppo, Social Neuroscientist from University of Chicago). The brain processes loneliness in the same area as physical pain. Being cut off from others can hurt so much that people will go to extremes in order to connect. Some inmates will try and talk to anyone who might be listening through a crack in a wall, or a vent. Or they will hide notes inside of books and hope another inmate finds it. Of course no communicating is allowed between inmates, so if they get caught it can add even more time to their sentence.

Transition: Now that we can clearly see these people are locked in a very alone place, and become very lonely, Let’s look at some more of the psychological effects of that isolation and loneliness.


A. Many complain of physical and psychological effects. Some inmates reported being plagued violent dreams almost nightly. Dr. Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist from Harvard Medical School studied solitary confinement and reported the inmates to have “difficulties with thinking, concentration, memory. Disorientation. It’s basically a delirium” (Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement, 2006) People become very paranoid. Many of the individuals in these conditions are absolutely tortured by it. However, proponents of Solitary confinement argue that they are giving them the most freedom that they can. The ability to touch another person is something that the offenders have to earn.

B. Justin Rueb is a current inmate in solitary confinement at Colorado State Penitentiary. His original prison sentence was 12 years. In his first 10 years, he got in trouble once for a non-violent violation. But after being there so long, he reported his psyche breaking down and having more violent feelings and doing things without thinking them through. He has been in Solitary confinement for 15 years now, and has had an additional 96 years added to his sentence. When you are totally isolated, being ignored is so painful, inmates will often do negative things just to get any kind of interaction or attention. To people in that state, negative attention is better then being completely ignored. When you see a friend, you give them a handshake or a hug, or just walk around and talk to them. In there you don’t have any of that. You are completely starved of any touch or connection.

C. “Loneliness impairs your impulse control.” (John Cacioppo, Social Neuroscientist from University of Chicago). Putting people in solitary confinement is actually having the opposite of the desired effect. It is actually decreasing the ability to control oneself. If they lose the ability to control their impulses and they become angry at someone, that makes them more likely to express that anger. Whether to a prison guard, and get more time in isolation, or to someone they may meet on the street once they are released. Since this lack of impulse control can be exhibited even AFTER they leave segregation.

Transition: Now that we understand some of the ways that solitary confinement impacts these people; let’s examine some of the additional and lasting effects of the problems caused.


A. The Supreme Court has never addressed the constitutionality of solitary confinement. By 1913, it was widely viewed as ineffective and cruel in most places. The US is one of the few countries in the world that still uses long-term solitary confinement. Other prison systems use small group settings and therapy to manage dangerous and disruptive inmates. But in America over 80,000 people are in Solitary on any given day.

B. Even if the inmate is still violent and dangerous, once they have served their sentence, they are released into society regardless. People that have been totally isolated for over 10 years can suddenly be in a public environment within 24 hours. Of those who are released from Solitary, 2/3 find themselves back in prison within 3 years. For some this suggests a problem with segregation. In 2009 the suicide rate as Colorado State Penitentiary (an entirely solitary confinement prison) was more then 14 TIMES higher then Colorado’s regular prisons.


THE BREAK-LIGHT FUNCTION: Today we discussed the effects of solitary confinement in America.

THE INSTANT REPLY FUNCTION: I hope you feel well informed on the subject and better understand what the living conditions are for those people, how it impacts them, and the effects it leaves.

THE ACTION-ENDING FUNCTION Solitary confinement has traumatic mental, psychological, and social effects on people. I hope you don’t overlook it, and if you ever get the chance, talk to our government about it. Remember the devastating effects of being alone, and reach out to people wherever they may be.

Works Cited:

“National Geographic: Solitary Confinement” -2010, National Geographic

“Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement” – 2006, Dr. Stuart Grassian

“Loneliness” -2008, John Cacioppo

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