More than 80,000 people in the United States are held in solitary confinement on any given day, with underreporting being one of the main issues for the lack of information about conditions and effects.

Not only does the media rarely get access, but popular culture also works against people in solitary confinement, demonising them and portraying them as "bogey men", psychopaths and killers that need to be put away.

But is this pop culture over-simplification of a real issue in the American justice system damaging journalists' chances to uncover a blanketed story? And what is being hidden under the pretence of the "Natural Born Killer"?

According to the ACLU's David Fathi of the national prison project, "Solitary confinement units in the United States are stuffed to the rafters with the mentally ill, with the developmentally disabled. People are put in solitary confinement for having too many postage stamps. For having too many pencils."

James Ridgeway has been documenting that system on Solitary Watch, a website he established back in 2009. He now has correspondence with more than 5,000 subscribed prisoners.

Solitary confinement units in the United States are stuffed to the rafters with the mentally ill, with the developmentally disabled. People are put in solitary confinement for having too many postage stamps. For having too many pencils.

David Fathi, national prison project, ACLU

The site has reported on every angle, every detail of conditions in isolation from prisoners diminished human rights through to their mental health.

"When we started our project, there was literally hardly anything about solitary confinement in the press, TV, or newscast, or papers," says Ridgeway. "The only way I could connect with people was through letters, through just plain letters. No phones, no emails, no real visits, no press contacts. I sort of thought to myself: these guys are reporters - what they've got to say is the way in."

Last month, Solitary Watch published the most recent essay by Jack Powers, an inmate in Colorado. He's been in isolation for almost 30 years and has contributed several compelling accounts of psychiatric trauma.

Ridgeway is no longer alone in his campaign to get stories on solitary from the inside. Media attention and outlets like Netflix are also showcasing prisoner conditions to shed light on solitary confinement.

It's not just media attention. Before he left office, President Barack Obama introduced a series of directives and guidelines, including an outright ban on juveniles in solitary. It remains unclear whether US President Donald Trump's administration will roll back on those promises or commit to continued reform, but regardless, audiences are finally hearing from some of the solitary voices.

Contributors:
James Ridgeway, Solitary Watch
Johnny Perez, adviser, US Commission on Civil Rights
Ricky Jones, radio host, 'Unlocked'
David Fathi, national prison Project, ACLU

Source: Al Jazeera