It is a well-documented fact that solitary confinements can cause long-term psychological trauma, particularly in the young and mentally ill. However, despite all the scientific research and pleas for prison reforms, the said punishment is a bit too prevalent in the United State's flawed criminal justice system.
Well, not anymore.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, President Barack Obama announced his move to ban solitary confinement for juveniles and low-level offenders in federal prisons. He said he came to this decision after a review by the Justice Department revealed the harsh practice reduces the chances of prisoner’s rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
The decision came as part of a series of executive actions, which not only prohibit federal corrections officials from punishing prisoners who commit “low-level infractions” with confinement, but also dictate the maximum period of solitary for a first offense must be 60 days — a notable change from the current time period of 365 days.
“The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance,” Obama wrote. “How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.”
To emphasize on the importance of this move, he also recalled the story of 22-year-old Kalief Browder, who killed himself after spending two years in the solitary of New York’s Rikers Island Jail.
The president also directed federal wardens to expand out-of-cell time for all inmates and ensure those in protective custody are housed in “less restrictive conditions.”
The move will affect roughly 10,000 inmates serving time in solitary confinement in federal facilities. Although, according to the reports, there are only a handful of juvenile offenders placed in restrictive housing each year. In fact, authorities claim 13 young offenders were placed in solitary between September 2014 and September 2015. Meanwhile, adult prisoners were sent to the restricted area about 3,800 times — and often for nonviolent offenses.
While Obama’s latest ruling is a major win for the human rights and prison reform campaigners, there is also a second side to the story.
Since juvenile penitentiaries usually hold kids of all ages, bullying and violence are a common occurrence there. In cases like these, most non-violent children consider solitary confinement their safe haven. Perhaps if bullies are not placed in restricted housing, the federal authorities would come up with an appropriate system to tackle this issue.
Meanwhile, this announcement comes amid a broader push by the president to pass an overhaul of the criminal-justice system through Congress this year.
A senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA, Jasmine Heiss, said the Justice Department's recommendations “represent a momentous break with this shameful legacy, and an acknowledgement that tens of thousands of human beings should not be condemned to live in a cage.”