SAN DIEGO (CBS 8/CNS) - One of the three American hikers who spent more than a year in an Iranian jail spoke to students at the California Westerns School of Law Thursday.
Sarah Shourd, who spent 14 months behind bars by herself in Iran, now speaks out against prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.
"Solitary confinement grates on the inside of your skull like metal on flesh," Shourd said.
The Oakland-based activist was working as a journalist in Syria and teaching Iraqi refugees when she, her fiance, Shane Bauer, and friend Josh Fattal crossed the border during a hiking trip in Iraqi Kurdistan in July 2009.
Shourd was released in September 2010 after a lump was found on her breast, and the men were freed a year later even though they had been given 8-year prison terms as alleged spies. Shourd and Bauer, a freelance journalist, have since married.
Last year, Shourd joined the California Innocence Project -- which includes some Cal Western faculty and students -- to call for the release of a Tacoma resident jailed in Nicaragua on drug trafficking charges. That man, Jason Puracal, has since been released.
"Prisoners are people who yearn to be part of a community like the rest of us," said Shourd. "It doesn't benefit society to torture them."
Shourd said it is more costly to house a person in solitary confinement, and the practice leads to a greater recidivism rate compared with prisoners living in the general population. She estimated that about 80,000 inmates are in solitary confinement in the U.S. daily.
She noted that some inmates are given solitary confinement as punishment, while others are kept by themselves for their safety.