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Solitary Confinement Under The Guise Of Public Health: Lessons Learned From COVID-19 And HIV

In carceral settings, the difference between punitive housing segregation (for example, solitary confinement) and segregation for public health purposes (for example, medical isolation) is often unclear. Solitary confinement is a common practice in which incarcerated individuals are housed alone for 22 to 24 hours per day and is characterized by extreme conditions of isolation, sensory deprivation, and idleness. Yet, reports from prisons and jails during the COVID-19 pandemic indicate that its use only increased; its use was justified as necessary to mitigate disease spread. Recent literature and news reporting have documented how medical isolation, quarantine, and full facility lockdown—all settings that mirror punitive practices in carceral settings—were prolonged and used as a primary tool of COVID-19 mitigation. In fact, between the beginning of the pandemic and its height in 2020, the use of solitary confinement specifically increased by an estimated 500 percent in response to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in carceral facilities.

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