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Jennifer Merin

National Geographic Explores Solitary Confinement Online Live

By April 2, 2010

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Leading up to the April 11 broadcast premiere of its Explorer: Solitary Confinement documentary, National Geographic Channel is staging a week-long experiment -- or is it a reality show?

Beginning today, April 2, 2010, somewhere in the vicinity of DC, three volunteers -- James, Laura and Rick -- have isolated themselves in three 80-foot-square solitary cells, where they will remain for up to a week.

The goal is to stimulate serious discussion about the widely used and controversial penal practice of solitary confinement, the subject of Explorer: Solitary Confinement.

Although the volunteers have made a commitment to stay in their separate cells for a week, they -- unlike prisoners put in 'the hole' -- can opt out of the experiment at any time they wish to do so.

While the volunteers are in their cells, however, you can watch them 24/7. Think of it as a live and online version of We Live In Public, with the documentary broadcast on National Geographic Channel as the denouement.

As the documentary shows, the subject of solitary confinement is deadly serious. Today, there are more than 80,000 Americans are in solitary confinement. Using the Colorado State Penitentiary as a location, the film observes prisoners held in 'administrative segregation,' where they're kept in complete isolation in their cells for 23 hours a day. The film presents studies showing how isolation dramatically alters behavior and can cause long-term delirium, paranoia, disorientation and other severe mental problems.

As I mentioned, you can watch the volunteers and interact with others who are watching them at the same time by using a Twitter hash tag. The volunteers, however, remain in solitary, and won't be able to see or respond to your comments.

What do you think of this experiment?

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