The Justice Department took a farsighted step last year when it banned the use of solitary confinement for young people in federal prisons. The decision — based on research showing that isolation promotes mental illness and self-harm — followed the widely publicized suicide of Kalief Browder, a young man who had been unjustly accused of a minor crime and sent to New York’s infamous Rikers Island jail complex, where he spent two traumatic years in solitary confinement.
The Justice Department ban has pushed several states to place new limits on their use of punitive isolation for young people. Federal courts have also started to weigh in, pressing states and counties to roll back extreme isolation measures.
Taken together, these developments show that the country’s attitudes are evolving and that the goal of abolishing punitive isolation for juveniles is now a realistic one.
That the country still has a long way to go is documented in a new reportfrom the Juvenile Law Center, a legal advocacy organization in Philadelphia. Among other things, the report shows that solitary confinement for children is still common, even in states that are trying to eliminate it, because policies governing isolation are riddled with loopholes.
- New York Times