Solitary Confinement Can Lead to a Life Sentence in Prison

Anthony Gay entered prison at age 19 with a sentence of seven years. The punishment seemed harsh enough for a weaponless robbery of a hat and a single dollar. But for Gay, the seven years would turn into 97, based entirely on his behavior in prison — despite the fact that the behavior in question was a result of Gay’s psychiatric disabilities, exacerbated by the isolation of solitary confinement.

In the past decade, the myriad harms caused by solitary confinement have received increasing recognition. Yet one of its most devastating consequences still receives relatively little attention: For individuals with mental health issues, landing in solitary not only produces behavior that yields more time in solitary; it can also extend prison sentences, sometimes dramatically. For these already vulnerable people, solitary confinement generates a cycle of punishment that for some can literally be endless.