LexInsight Blog

Juvenile Solitary confinement Reform, and what it looks like

Jul 5, 2018 7:00:00 AM / by Leandreia Coates

Reform

“Solitary confinement and isolation of children is psychologically and developmentally damaging, and can result in long-term problems and even suicide.”(Solitary Confinement and Isolation in Juvenile Detention and Correctional Facilities ( 2013),

https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/4%202%20Juvenile%20Solitary_Two%20Pager.pdf. I know that the purpose of juvenile corrections is to rehabilitate and re- acclimate juveniles into society. Unfortunately, isolating juveniles has the complete opposite effect, and that is quite disturbing. Today in juvenile facilities all around the United States children are put into solitary confinement.  Facilities use the excuse that this is to the benefit of the juvenile and the facility. The argument is constantly made that isolation is necessary to “defuse” juvenile incidents in the juvenile facilities and to give the juveniles time to cool down. There are several different types of confinement:

  •    Disciplinary Isolation- A physical isolation used to punish children.
  •    Protective Isolation- Physical isolation that is used to protect children from other children.
  •    Administrative Isolation- Physical and social isolation used during the process of introducing a child to a new facility
  •    Medical Isolation- Physical isolation and social isolation used to medically treat children that may have a contagious disease.

Evidence of harm and deterioration of a child’s psychological development has begun to surface.  

“From day to day, it’s always the same,” he wrote. “Isolation, 24 hours a day. The light stays on, the door stays closed, no human interaction. I felt like an animal. I was always in the same cage, naked save for a paper hospital gown.”(In a Maryland Jail, Teens Charged As Adults face Isolation and Neglect, http://solitarywatch.com/2014/06/17/maryland-jail-teens-charged-adults-face-isolation-neglect  , (last visited Nov. 21.2015)) . This is a quote from a letter to the solitary watch of a Maryland prison. This quote was written by a sixteen-year-old young man, Robert Richardson, in solitary confinement, awaiting his sentencing.

This exerpt is from an article by Aviva Stahl titled, “In a Maryland Jail, Teens Charged As Adults face Isolation and Neglect”. In this article, Stahl interviews several juveniles who were incarnated for various reasons. In the interviews, juveniles discuss the effects that being held in isolation has had on them. These young men talk about how they are confined to a small room, 11 x7, for at least 22 hours a day, for months on end. They speak of how the only way that they speak or have communications with anyone is through the wall and small pipes. Richard talks about how he does not see or speak to other humans for months. He talks about how he sees no sunshine and has little human interaction. Through reading this article, my understanding is that even though this may have happened to Richard and a few of the people that he got to know through the walls of that Maryland prison; this type of confinement happens often and around the United States.

“Being in a room over 21 hours a day is like a waking nightmare, like you want to scream but you can’t. You want to stretch your legs, walk for more than a few feet. You feel trapped. Life becomes distorted. You shower, eat, sleep, and defecate in the same tiny room. In the same small sink, you ‚shower,‛ quench your thirst, wash your hands after using the toilet, and warm your cold dinner in a bag. I developed techniques to survive. I keep a piece of humanity inside myself that can’t be taken away by the guards . . . There’s no second chance here.” (ALONE & AFRAID: Children Held in Solitary Confinement and Isolation in Juvenile Detention and Correctional Facilities, (2013) available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=269469).

The quote above comes from a young lady named Lino Silva, who was in solitary confinement for at least seven years in a California prison. She tells the story of how for seven years she was stuck in the same room and the things that keep her sane were the children that were confined around her that taught her how to play chess, through a wall.

In both of these cases, neither one of the children that experienced this confinement spoke of how this confinement helped them to become better citizens. Instead, these juveniles spoke of how their main focus was staying alive and sane.  In both of the interviews, there were instances where other children, juvenile offenders, that were not as strong and fortunate as the Lino and Richard. Many children in confinement have ended up with mental issues, having to be put on depression and anxiety medication, while others attempted to commit suicide and most, unfortunately, being successful in their attempts.

Statistics have shown that the type of confinement imposed on juvenile offenders have had a detrimental effect on children’s development. The confinement also has a tendency to be more harmful to children with a history of trauma and abuse, and children with disabilities. According to a recent study done by the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) “… research by the department of justice found that more than 50% of the children detained in a juvenile facilities occurred while young people were isolated in their rooms or alone; and that more than 60% of young people who commit suicide had a history of being held in isolation. The study goes further to talk about the physical harm and damage done to children while in isolation.”.Id at 5.

The study also discusses how children are still developing mentally, and how by being isolated juveniles are missing out on vital developmental stages needed for a growing child such as education and interaction with other children, which are vital for social and educational skills. The lack of these skills naturally causes more problems for children.  In addition, most of these juvenile offenders come from broken homes or troubled homes. Studies have shown that children that have a background as such, are more likely to self-harm. Unfortunately, most of the children incarnated have this type of background. This is a problem that is not small or isolated. The juvenile confinement problem is one that I believe is a global issue. What I mean by that is that this issue is not only confined to the U.S. but other countries as well.

How do I propose we fix it? Change it. Get rid of child confinement. There is, in my mind, absolutely no reason for a child to spend 22 hours a day alone. Childhood is the most important part of life. Childhood is a time where a person develops characteristics that make them who they are. Children learn who they want to be and why they would like to be that person in the adolescent stages of their lives. They go to school and get an education so that they may become the best human beings that they can be. Childhood is a time for children to learn what is right and wrong. With the understanding that, yes, these are children that have broken a law, or committed a bad act, but the key phrase here is that they are children. They are still human. They are still impressionable. They still have the right to learn and be taught better. In fact, these are some of the children that need the most love.

I propose that we do away with unnecessary juvenile confinement all together. I think that children should go to individualized homes that specialize in whatever development issue(s) that they may have. This would mean that each juvenile offender would have to do an individualized assessment, and based on that assessment the child should be placed where they can be properly helped and loved on. Upon completion of the program, they juvenile should be placed in a home that helps them get re-acclimated into a society that will often look down on them. The purpose of this home would act as a support system for any hurdles they may face in society being a juvenile offender. Once the juvenile’s individualized counselor has signed off on the child’s progress, then and only then can the juvenile be released.

I know and understand that this is something that would cost a large sum of money, but it’s money well spent. If we can truly help and rehabilitate juveniles, then we would not have as many adult offenders. If there were not so many adult offenders then the need for prisons would be less and the less taxpayer money would be needed to help these prisons stay open. Helping children I believe is a huge key to changing the world.

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Leandreia Coates

Written by Leandreia Coates

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2013 to pursue a career in the legal field. I have a vast array of knowledge in a plethora of arenas, and I truly believe that one should never stop learning and growing. I also has a strong affinity for working with children (I love the kids) and helping the underserved community wherever I see a need for help. I am currently working on laying the foundation to effectively change the juvenile justice system from the inside out. I swear by a great quote. One of my favorite quotes is by one of my mentors, Dee Rankin, “ If you are still only chasing your dreams you are not running fast enough.” When it all boils down, I am just a simple Louisiana girl that is going to change the world.