By SOPHIA ROTHMAN, age 12

The average size of a solitary confinement cell is smaller than the average size of a parking spot. PHOTO: Wolfram Burner/Flickr
The average size of a solitary confinement cell is smaller than the average size of a parking space. PHOTO: Wolfram Burner/Flickr

In the United States, at least 80,000 people are imprisoned in solitary confinement at this moment. Solitary confinement is when a prisoner is kept behind a steel door, with limited contact with other people, for 22 to 24 hours a day. According to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, “The United States has become a world leader in holding prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement.” Solitary confinement has been declared a form of torture by the United Nations.

On September 1 of this year, California agreed to overhaul the use of solitary confinement in its prisons. California’s plan is to dramatically decrease the number of prisoners kept in isolation. They also offered more rights to prisoners considered too dangerous to return to society. The recent agreement was based on a lawsuit brought by inmates confined to isolation for at least a decade at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. Many of them struggle with panic attacks, hallucinations and overt paranoia as a result of their time in solitary confinement.

In 2011, prisoners of Pelican Bay protested the practice with a hunger strike. When none of their demands were met, the inmates organized another hunger strike that included more than 12,000 prisoners across California and in other states. During the third hunger strike in July 2013, which lasted 60 days, more than 60,000 prisoners participated.

In July of this year, President Obama became the first president to criticize solitary confinement, telling the New York Times that locking people up alone for extended periods of time “is not going to make us safer. That’s not going to make us stronger. And if those individuals are ultimately released, how are they ever going to adapt?”

Hunger strike: Refusal to eat, carried out as a protest.