The ACLU and Human Rights Watch recently partnered to publish a report on the effects of youth in solitary confinement, along with recommendations to the federal government and state governments regarding the use of solitary confinement on teens.
The report, “Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States” [PDF download] reports that solitary confinement is even more harmful to teens than adults since their brains are still developing. Despite this, teens are held in solitary confinement every day, spending up to 22 hours alone in small cells completely isolated physically and socially from the outside world. From the report:
Sometimes there is a window allowing natural light to enter or a view of the world outside cell walls. Sometimes it is possible to communicate by yelling to other inmates, with voices distorted, reverberating against concrete and metal. Occasionally, they get a book or bible, and if they are lucky, study materials. But inside this cramped space, few contours distinguish one hour, one day, week, or one month, from the next.
Experts assert that young people are psychologically unable to handle solitary confinement with the resilience of an adult. And, because they are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow. Solitary confinement can exacerbate, or make more likely, short and long-term mental health problems. The most common deprivation that accompanies solitary confinement, denial of physical exercise, is physically harmful to adolescents’ health and well-being.
Key Recommendations To the US Federal Government and/or State Governments
• Prohibit the solitary confinement of youth under age 18.
• Prohibit the housing of adolescents with adults, or in jails and prisons designed to house adults.
• Strictly limit and regulate all forms of segregation and isolation of young people.
• Monitor and report on the segregation and isolation of adolescents.
• Ratify human rights treaties protecting young people without reservations.
David Backes writes the Friday news roundup for Reclaiming Futures and contributes articles about juvenile justice reform and adolescent substance abuse treatment to ReclaimingFutures.org. He has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Santa Clara University. David works as an account executive for Prichard Communications.
Updated: January 24 2013