To most desis, the name Atul Gawande would not ring a bell (how would it, you do have to pay for the New Yorker magazine. After all, it’s not free like the Redbox DVDs, NYT online edition or the SearchIndia.com blog).
But Atul Gawande is no stranger to the readers of this fine blog. The bloke is aÂ doctor and currrently Associate Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School and General and Endocrine Surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Dr. Gawande has yet another fine piece in the latest issue of New Yorker (March 30, 2009).
This time, the focus of Atul Gawande’s article is the pernicious practice of solitary confinement of prisoners on a large scale in America.
(Pic: Brigham & Women’™s Hospital)
Atul Gawande argues convincingly that extended solitary confinement of human beings in prison is nothing but torture because of the serious damage to the prisoners like brain impairment (as bad as in the case of traumatic head injury), slowing of brave waves, hallucinations, panic attacks, irrational anger, chronic depression and lethargy, difficulty in maintaining social interaction after release et al.
Gawande starts off his lengthy piece stating:
Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people. [P.36, New Yorker, March 30, 2009].
According to Gawande, 25,000 inmates are in isolation in supermax prisons in the U.S. and another 50,000-80,000 in restrictive segregation units, with many of them in isolation (P.42, New Yorker, March 30, 2009).
Marshalling an array of impressive evidence based on existing studies, books and other publicly available information and following up with his interviews of ex-prisoners who were subjected to solitary confinement, Gawande argues forcefully that solitary confinement is not a necessary evil and suggests that they have serious negative consequences.
Blaming public sentiment for the explosion in solitary confinement in America, Gawande writes in what’s a very depressing read for us:
With little concern or demurral, we have consigned tens of thousands of our own citizens to conditions that horrified our highest court a century ago. Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of Americaâ€™s moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinementâ€”on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door.
God Bless America (the equivalent of Mera Bharat Mahan).