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  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

  • Tuesday Olson knew her pregnancy was in trouble and tried to access hospital care as soon as possible. But there was a problem: she was in jail. This is her story.
  • It’s time to end the death penalty in Colorado. Family members who lost loved ones to murder speak out against an unjust and broken system.

Report: Too Many Teens in Solitary Confinement

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.



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