Plot: The prison system is a constant source of controversy and discussion, with the best ways to house, control, and rehabilitate prisoners as an endless debate. One of the more polarizing elements of the American prison system is solitary confinement, in which an inmate is locked up in a small room alone, with minimal luxuries and social contact. This is often used only to house the most dangerous or disruptive inmates, but it is still met with severe opposition. In this piece, Frontline takes an in depth look at the practice and how it impacts prisoners, guards, and even the lingering effects it can have on those who are housed in the unit. This episode covers over three years of footage inside the Maine State Prison, during a period when solitary confinement was being slowly phased out for most prisoners.
Entertainment Value: This is a two hour installment of Frontline, taking an in depth look at solitary confinement. While this practice has been common in American prisons, it has always been a controversial approach and in recent years, some prisons have begun to roll back the method. The idea behind it is to isolated dangerous prisoners for the safety of guards and other prisoners, but it has proven to take an immense toll on some of the inmates. In Last Days of Solitary, we’re taken inside Maine State Prison as the institution slowly scales down the solitary housing units, with over three years covered in the piece. This program gives us extensive interviews with prisoners, guards, prison officials, and mental health professionals, so this is all first hand knowledge and that is incredibly insightful. You also don’t just hear about the things that can happen, but you witness them first hand, with some violent, disturbing incidents. The topic of how to deal with extreme risk prisoners is an almost impossible one to solve, but it is interesting to get so much information and so many varied perspectives here. This is a well made, very insightful piece, so if you have an interest in the social dynamics around prisons, this episode is well worth your time.