FRONTLINE | Solitary Nation
Watch Tuesday, April 22, 2014 at 10pm on WMHT TV.
For decades, the United States has been fixated on incarceration, building prisons and locking up more and more people.
But at what cost, and has it really made a difference?
In Locked Up in America, a series of intimate, probing films, FRONTLINE goes to the epicenter of the raging debate about incarceration in America, focusing on the controversial practice of solitary confinement and on new efforts to reduce the prison population. Both films take a deep dive into two parts of the country, where officials are rethinking what to do with criminals.
With rare, unfettered access, award-winning director and producer Dan Edge gives viewers an up-close, graphic look at a solitary-confinement unit in Maine’s maximum-security prison, and he follows four residents of a housing project in Louisville, Ky., as they cycle in and out of the state’s jails and prisons.
The film offers raw and unforgettable firsthand accounts from prisoners, prison staff, and people whose lives are forever altered by this troubled system.
When filmmaker Dan Edge was granted access to the solitary-confinement unit inside Maine’s maximum-security state prison in Warren, he knew it would be eye-opening, but he never expected the level of sensory overload he would experience. “People think the solitude is what drives prisoners crazy, but it’s actually the noise,” Edge says. “It’s so loud and awful, and it never stops.”
In Solitary Nation, FRONTLINE gives a visceral portrait of life in solitary, told through the inmates living in isolation, the officers watching over them, and the new warden who is desperately trying to reform the system.
With these previously unheard voices as its jumping-off point, the film deeply examines the use and impact of solitary confinement. On any given day, about 80,000 Americans are held in solitary. Critics say the practice is inhumane and counterproductive, and now some states are trying to curtail its use. Solitary Nation follows the efforts of Rodney Bouffard, the new warden at Maine’s maximum-security state prison, who is trying to move some inmates out of solitary.
“It’s really dangerous. You could have someone in here on a five-year commitment. They could do their whole time in segregation. But I don’t want him living next to me when we release him,” Bouffard tells FRONTLINE. “For the normal person who doesn’t work in a facility like this, they’re thinking if you punish them, you’ll make them better. The reality is the exact opposite happens.”