Solitary Confinement: A Controversial Punishment

Part 2: Prisoners forced to live in solitary can suffer mental breakdowns and claustrophobia.
3:00 | 09/20/12

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Transcript for Solitary Confinement: A Controversial Punishment
Here on the outside, the common belief is for solitary confinement is only for the most hardened inmates. But not so. In some prisons, contraband will earn a prisoner in the hole and almost all of these men will be released back into society some day. Studies show they are more likely to reoffend on the outside as a result. We return now to abc's dan harris, almost through his first day of confinement to look for clues as to Reporter: I've now been in solitary for 18 hours. Good morning, guys. Reporter: I'm meeting with jail officials. Feels good to be out of that little cage, I'll tell you that much. When we are loudly interrupted. What is that? It is my neighbor, the mentally ill inmate, breaking down while guards return him to his cell after a court appearance. Jail officials admit, sometimes when they put people in solitary, they just get worse. So, that raises the question about whether maybe -- is there a better way? That's a question that we all are asking and I don't know what the answer is. Reporter: While here at this jail, most inmates are not in solitary for more than 60 days, in some prisons, inmates can be in for years, decades, even. When I'm returned to my cell, after my meeting with the guards, listen to what one of them tells me. People need to know what goes on here. Thank you. Reporter: Thank you. I'm back in my cell for the rest of this day of tedium, broken up only by barely edible meals. A bologna sandwich, lettuce, couple slices of american cheese, some cookies. I know I only have 18 hours left, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around how I'm going to make it through the sheer density of the boredom that being in solitary entails. In another part of the jail, marcel woods passes the time by writing his mom a letter. I told her when I have trial coming up. Reporter: Marcel has been in and out of jail his entire life. This time, it's theft and assault charges. Hopefully this time I learned my lesson. This isn't the place to be. If you don't have this, then you go stir crazy. Listen to the news, music, sports. Reporter: August rayfield, who swears by his jail-issued transistor radio is in for meth possess possession, stolen checks and domestic violence. We have one of these. Reporter: The other thing keeping him sane, the calendar where he counts down the days. So, 31, 31, 30. And that's what you hear all day. That's what you hear 24/7. No way to live. Don't break the law. Reporter: Back in my cell, the noise has also begun. It's my neighbor downstairs again. As I get ready for sleep, I'm wondering whether I can make it. The guards have told me I can leave at any time if I can't take it anymore and that idea is becoming increasingly tempting. The next morning, I wake up in my tiny cell. Personally, I can smell freedom at this point and I am ready to get out of here. Outside, the deputy makes his time rounds of the morning before his shiftends. He admits looking at the faces of men behind glass every day is not easy psychologically. The night shift is intense. You got to stay awake, you got to -- you got to stay active. Every day is a new story. Reporter: Every inmate gets one free hour outside his cell per day. All right. Shower time. They told me not to interact with any of the inmates. You're going to need your shower shoes, bro. Even when they taunt me. Going to catch gingivitis. I have a prepaid call from an inmate in denver downtown detention center. Reporter: During my free hour, I get a chance to call my wife. In terms of you feeling like you're losing your mind, do you have a sense of what that might be like? Reporter: Yeah, I mean, i haven't felt like I'm losing my mind, but I get a little glimpse of what it must feel like. I know I'm going to get out. Reporter: Coming up, more trouble with my mentally ill neighbor. And, I finally get to meet my fellow inmates and ask them, if you did the crime, shouldn't you do the time? I don't know how much sympathy there is in the general public for people who commit crimes. Oh, there's none.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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