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.
It was against the law during slave days, to teach a slave to read or write — denial of education goes way back. Also, during reconstruction, and later, there were efforts by white lawmakers to have more punitive and longer sentences for crimes they thought black people were more likely to commit. Today, we face a whole spectrum beginning with racial profiling and ending with the large number of black men who have been executed or who await execution on death row.
Then, when looking at issues of public education, I realized the school system here in Atlanta and indeed all over the country was re-segregating and the process was closely connected with the large number of young black men going into the prison system.
Several groups began working to stop this “school to prison” pipeline and we continue today as the problem worsens. One of the worst elements of this tragedy is the connection to money — of course — and the vast sums being spent on building prisons and keeping them filled.
Under President George W. Bush, private prisons started flourishing, often in poor rural areas where people welcomed them, hoping it would improve the local economy. The number of beds for prisoners in each institution and the prison population determine the income the state pays to these private corporations. One can see the analogy of a system where people are traded on Wall Street instead of a slave block in Charleston.
With more than 2 million people in prison, the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate. If you add those on probation and parole, the figure is 6.5 million, or one in every 32 adults. The majority of U.S. inmates are black males, but prison populations increasingly include Latinos, other minorities, and the poor in general.
[read more after the jump]