The stories have been effective. But their scarcity also suggests that the lack of press access to these sites around the nation has stifled public debate on a significant issue of policy and human rights. “Solitary confinement is a brutal form of prison punishment that has claimed many lives and caused untold suffering,” says Mary Beth Pfieffer. “That is the story that officials do not want told.” Until we are allowed to tell it properly—until we can visit solitary units ourselves, and speak unhindered with prisoners and corrections officers—we cannot fulfill our duty to shine a light into society’s darkest corners.

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James Ridgeway has been a reporter for close to 50 years, writing for The Village Voice, The New Republic, and Mother Jones, among others, and is the author of 16 books. He is co-editor, with Jean Casella, of the website Solitary Watch and a 2012 Soros Justice Media Fellow