"Isolation" by Derek Key is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Flickr)"

In prisons throughout the United States, a total of somewhere around 80,000 prisoners are isolated from human contact for 22 to 24 hours a day. These prisoners are kept in very small cells—spaces of roughly 80 square feet.  In the cell is a bed, a toilet, and very little else.  Prisoners in solitary are fed three meals a day and are often allowed outside every day for an hour, with no contact with other prisoners.  The practice, commonly known as “solitary confinement” has come to be known by a number of euphemisms, including “restrictive housing” and “segregation.”

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As part of a legal settlement, Bernards Township, a small, affluent town in central New Jersey, will pay a 3.25-million-dollar settlement to a local Islamic group.  The Justice Department filed suit. Together with the Islamic group, the department alleged that the township had changed their zoning laws to prevent a mosque from being built to service the area’s Muslim population.  

"Serial Podcast" by Casey Fiesler is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

In late 2016, Up and Vanished, a podcast produced and hosted by independent filmmaker-turned-podcaster Payne Lindsey, released its first episode.  The topic of the podcast is the until recently cold murder case of Georgia eleventh-grade history teacher Tara Grinstead.  Grinstead went missing, presumably from her home in Ocilla, Georgia, in October 2005.  

"Angela Wade, a 911 dispatcher at the Camp Lejeune 911 Emergency Consolidated Communications Center, takes calls and monitors five different screens at the center, June 20" is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

The caller said the student had a gun. Placed on the night of May 1 to Colgate University’s campus safety department, the call provoked a full-scale lockdown of the upstate New York college. For four hours, students waited in their dorms as police combed the campus for the shooter. Soon, though, it became clear that the caller had been wrong. There was no active shooter. Instead, the caller had seen a black student walking into an academic building holding a glue gun.

"Breathalyzer" by Jaeda Waffer is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via scott.af.mil)

The United States has long struggled with a set of deeply divided attitudes toward alcohol.  To be sure, alcohol can be quite dangerous, so it is certainly reasonable to be cautious and concerned about its use in certain contexts.  On the other hand, one of the clear lessons taught by our experiment with Prohibition is that individuals feel that restrictive alcohol policies constitute unwarranted violations of their autonomy.

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It is painfully obvious that the United States is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid abuse. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than any other recorded year, and the majority of those overdose deaths involved opioids. DHHS and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) claim that an increase in the prescription of pain medication is a primary driver of the opioid epidemic. According to the CDC, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the US has nearly quadrupled since 1999. However, Americans do not report higher levels of pain than they did in 1999.

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Untidiness, tattooing, insolence towards a staff member, “reckless eyeballing,” and possession of an excessive quantity of postage stamps. These are all behaviors that are officially punishable by “restriction to quarters” and “change of housing” in the US Federal Prison System, according to Quartz. Thus, you can be placed in solitary confinement for relatively innocuous infractions, and the clear potential for abuse of this practice is one reason why the use of solitary confinement to punish prisoners has recently come under intense pressure. New York reached a legal settlement in 2015 with the New York Civil Liberties Union regarding the aggressive use of solitary confinement in its prisons, and a multi-year process was begun to lessen the times people spent in solitary confinement and to improve conditions in solitary confinement units.

"Execution chamber, Florida" by Florida Dept. of Corrections/Doug Smith is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

In March and April of this year, the state of Arkansas made national headlines for its plan to execute eight prisoners over the course of 11 days.  The speed involved is striking, especially when compared with national annual execution averages; only 20 people were executed nationwide in 2016.  

The truth is, Arkansas is racing against the clock.  Like most states, the primary method of execution in Arkansas is lethal injection.  Death by lethal injection is typically accomplished using a three-drug cocktail.  In Arkansas, midazolam is used as an anesthetic, ideally ensuring that the prisoner does not experience any pain.  Vecuronium bromide is used to cause paralysis before potassium chloride is used to stop the heart.  The trouble is, the remaining midazolam that Arkansas possesses is about to reach its expiration date, and it looks like they won’t have access to more any time soon.

"Cook County Juvenile Detention Center" by Noah Vaughn is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (via Flickr)

The promise of free and compulsory public education in the United States is the basis for an equal and educated citizenry and the foundation of our democracy. According to most, equal access to education levels the playing field and is the ultimate provider of social mobility and economic opportunity; therefore, we have the duty to inspect what threatens this access.