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Dysart Willis

Crime and excessive punishment

Everyone understands that prisons are harsh places. A recent newspaper article sheds light on just how harsh North Carolina prisons can be.

The Charlotte Observer reports that seven inmates held in state prisons have each been held in solitary confinement for more than 10 years. Many observers say their punishment exceeds their crimes.

Prison officials rejected the newspaper's request for the names of the prisoners who have spent more than a decade each in solitary confinement, but the paper uncovered two of the names on its own.

One of them suffers bipolar disorder and has harmed himself repeatedly. He has been in solitary for 13 straight years. Another inmate wrote to the paper, saying that he has been also been held in solitary for 13 years.

Prison officials deem the second inmate an "extreme escape risk" who they say also has a record of assaulting prison staff. The 48-year-old claims that he's been in solitary for more than two years since his last disciplinary infraction.

Solitary confinement means 20 to 24 hours per day in a concrete cell smaller than a parking space, the paper reports. Recreation is often time nothing more than alone in a steel cage.

Experts say prolonged periods of solitary confinement can generate and exacerbate psychiatric problems that can result in behavior that lands an inmate back in solitary.

No one needs to be convinced that severe conditions are often the norm behind bars, but many observers are shocked by the reliance on solitary in North Carolina's institutions.

For those facing possible prison sentences, minimizing the length of a potential sentence can become of paramount importance. An experienced Raleigh criminal defense attorney understands how to protect freedom in negotiations and at trial.