Crueler Than Fiction

Andrew Cohen marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the film Papillon with an article on the use and abuse of solitary confinement in American prisons:

Pick a state, any state, and you will find prisoners who are being treated as poorly, or worse, than were the prisoners depicted on Devil’s Island. … For example, in Colorado, as I wrote last month, state officials placed Sam Mandez into solitary confinement when he was just 18 years old. Not because he had tried to escape or because he was violent with his guards. But for petty offenses. Sixteen years later, he is still in confinement, made mentally ill by the isolation, and yet still without the proper medical attention the Constitution requires him to receive. What made moviegoers grimace in 1973 when they saw McQueen mistreated in that cell hardly makes them take notice today.

Last month, Cohen provided more details on Mandez’s case.