Every day, in jails and prisons across the United States, young people under the age of 18 are held in solitary confinement, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to the report, youth as young as 13 spend “22 or more hours each day alone, usually in a small cell behind a solid steel door, completely isolated both physically and socially, often for days, weeks, or even months on end.” The report goes on to say solitary confinement is considered cruel when applied even to adult prisoners. But, “it can have particular long-term impacts on youth, the study concluded.”
The report continues: “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.
“This bare social and physical existence makes many young people feel doomed and abandoned, or in some cases, suicidal, and can lead to serious physical and emotional consequences. Adolescents in solitary confinement describe cutting themselves with staples or razors, hallucinations, losing control of themselves, or losing touch with reality while isolated. They talk about only being allowed to exercise in small metal cages, alone, a few times a week; about being prevented from going to school or participating in any activity that promotes growth or change. Some say the hardest part is not being able to hug their mother or father.”
Specifically, the report finds that:
- Young people are subjected to solitary confinement in jails and prisons nationwide, and often for weeks and months.
- When subjected to solitary confinement, adolescents are frequently denied access to treatment, services, and programming adequate to meet their medical, psychological, developmental, social, and rehabilitative needs.
- Solitary confinement of young people often seriously harms their mental and physical health, as well as their development.
The report finishes with some key recommendations for state governments and the Federal government, among them:
- 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.