October 10, 2012
ACLU, Human Rights Watch Call for Ban on Solitary and an End to Housing Adolescents with Adults Behind Bars
WASHINGTON — Young people are held in solitary confinement in jails and prisons across the United States, often for weeks or months at a time, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The report, “Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States,” is based on research in both U.S. jails and prisons in five states ¬– Colorado, Florida, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania – and correspondence with young people in 14 others. The isolation of solitary confinement causes anguish, provokes serious mental and physical health problems, and works against rehabilitation for teenagers, the report found.
“Locking kids in solitary confinement with little or no contact with other people is cruel, harmful, and unnecessary,” said Ian Kysel, Aryeh Neier Fellow with the ACLU and HRW and author of the report. “Normal human interaction is essential to the healthy development and rehabilitation of young people; to cut that off helps nobody.”
The report is based on interviews and correspondence with more than 125 young people in 19 states who spent time in solitary confinement while under age 18, as well as with jail and/or prison officials in 10 states.
The report calls for a
- Ban on solitary confinement for youths under 18 because it is costly and ineffective.
- Prohibition on housing adolescents with adults in facilities designed to house only adults to reduce the chances of abuse from other prisoners and because these facilities are not equipped to manage the developmental needs of adolescents.
- Strict limit on all forms of isolation of young people and a move toward discipline that is proportional to the infraction.
The groups estimate that in 2011, more than 95,000 youths under age 18 were held in prisons and jails. A significant number of these facilities use solitary confinement – for days, weeks, months, or even years – to punish, protect, house, or treat some of the young people held there.
Because young people are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow, the groups found. Solitary confinement can exacerbate short- and long-term mental health problems or make it more likely that such problems will develop. Young people in solitary confinement are routinely denied access to treatment, services, and programming required to meet their medical, psychological, developmental, social, and rehabilitative needs.
Young people interviewed repeatedly described how solitary confinement compounded the stress of being imprisoned. They spoke about cutting themselves with staples or razors while in solitary, having hallucinations, and losing touch with reality. Several said they had attempted suicide multiple times in solitary confinement.
“Being in isolation to me felt like I was on an island all alone, dying a slow death from the inside out,” said “Kyle B.”, from California, who spent time in solitary confinement while under age 18.
There are alternative ways to address the problems – whether disciplinary, administrative, protective, or medical – that officials typically cite to justify using solitary confinement, the report said, including specialized facilities organized to encourage positive behavior.
“No one believes that locking a teenager in a closet is an effective way to improve either their behavior or their character, much less to protect them long term,” Kysel said. “Young people have rights and needs that are different from adults; jail and prison practices should reflect those differences and promote their ability to grow and change – we should invest in youth, not banish them.”
To read more about ACLU efforts to end solitary confinement, click here.
Links to the report and to multimedia features can be found here.