Stop the Torture: End Youth Solitary Confinement

Children often want for many things, but imagine if your child only desired to talk to you. Now, imagine your child was denied the right to do so. This is a harsh reality for thousands of youth placed in solitary confinement. Jeffery J, a victim of this cruel punishment stated,

“I hope they don’t take my visits or call away. Today is going to make the third day I haven’t got a call…. My mom really, really cares about me so she wants to know what is going on…. As long as I can talk to my family, I’ll be okay. I could be in a room all day if I could talk to my family.”

Solitary confinement is implemented in prisons across America for one of three reasons:  to punish (disciplinary segregation), to isolate (administrative segregation), or to protect (seclusion). Originally, it was used only on adult offenders, but the “adult time for adult crime” mentality of the 1980s caused juvenile prisons to adopt these methods. This ideology, however, conflicts with the American juvenile justice system’s founding principle, which is that juveniles are different from adults.

When youth and adolescents enter the juvenile justice system, they still have not undergone key brain developments that affect their behavior and judgement patterns. For example, the frontal lobe, an area of the brain responsible for cognitive processing, is not fully-formed until age twenty. Therefore, the juvenile justice system was intended to be a tool to rehabilitate youth, so they can be reintegrated into society. Solitary confinement, however, curtails the opportunity for a second chance.

Locked in a concrete box for twenty-two hours a day, children placed in solitary confinement are not just denied family contact. Inadequate physical exercise, mental health services, education, and nutrition are all social injustices these inmates face. And, unfortunately, this confinement results in devastating psychological effects, lasting long after lockdown. Because of these inhumane living conditions, many juveniles can never become contributing members of society.

It can be challenging to house, protect, and care for youth in the criminal justice system, but solitary confinement is not the solution. Even when incarcerated, children need to be provided with the resources to properly grow and develop. Thankfully, our national leaders are recognizing that youth solitary confinement does more harm than good. President Obama recently issued an executive order that strictly bans the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, and one of the provisions in the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 limits the confinement time to up to three hours. These noble efforts, however, only apply to federal prisons, where few juveniles are held. In state prisons across America, thousands of youth are still locked away in bare cells, without sunlight, social interaction, and other basic human necessities. We need state legislators to realize these policies are hurting kids. Contact your local state legislator and tell them to end youth solitary confinement.