UC Santa Cruz virtual reality

Credit: The Guardian

A screenshot from "The Guardian's" virtual reality project on solitary confinement.

UC Santa Cruz psychology professor Craig Haney is a key adviser in a virtual reality form of journalism, 6x9: A virtual experience of solitary confinement, by the British newspaper The Guardian, that places viewers into a virtual prison cell.

The Guardian's first virtual reality project aims to highlight the psychological and physiological devastation of solitary confinement.

Haney has spent four decades documenting the long-term psychological damage of incarceration in the United States. The Guardian worked closely with Haney, who explained the reactions that extreme isolation can cause. He provided them with a psychological narrative about what it would likely feel like when one enters a concrete cell six feet by nine feet, and the reaction to what he describes as “the varying dimensions of abject emptiness one encounters in the space.”

“As a psychologist I can tell you that you are going to undergo many different kinds of reactions and some of them will be more immediate than others,” Haney says in the video trailer. “There are high rates of suicide and self harm.”

Viewers can experience what being in solitary confinement is like thanks to the Guardian’s computer-generated reconstruction of a cell. When "inside," viewers can explore what they can and canot do in solitary confinement through the immersive exhibit. 

The project includes an interactive website with podcasts, video, prisoner stories, op-eds, as well as a mobile phone app.

“There are physical and physiological consequences of being deprived of human and social contact so that people’s brainwave patterns are altered and certainly people who are in these environments for many months or years on end have to change and transform who they are and so they are damaged,” Haney says in the piece. 

Haney was also interviewed for a podcast that discusses the psychological effects of isolation.

The 360 video can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odcsxUbVyZA

More information on how to visit the Guardian’s virtual reality experience can be found at: www.theguardian.com/solitary-vr