There are an increasing number of juvenile offenders serving time in adult prison. Many of these juveniles are being placed in solitary confinement; the reasoning being that it is the best protection the adult prisons can provide for juvenile offenders. However, is this practice doing more harm than good?
There is no data on how many minors are held in solitary confinement nationwide, but recent reports from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch estimate that 14% of all juvenile offenders in adult prisons were placed in solitary confinement at least once in 2012. At New York City’s infamous Riker’s Island, on average, juvenile offenders were held in solitary for 43 long, 23-hour days.
Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist and expert on solitary confinement, was recently asked about this issue. He cited research from the 1950s done by the CIA that showed the damaging impact solitary confinement had on American prisoners of war. Solitary confinement “produced [… a person who was so unhinged, he was confused, disoriented, disheveled," Grassian stated, "They wouldn't sometimes know who they were. They couldn't think."
Juvenile offender advocates have called for youth solitary confinement to be banned. Instead, advocates believe that other punishments, like taking away privileges, should be instituted. Grassian agrees that this switch is necessary for the mental stability of juvenile offenders.
"You have these kids getting more and more out of control, more and more impulsive, more and more emotionally out of control because they're in solitary. It's very likely that's going to be a permanent impairment in their lives," he said. "Well, guess what? Ninety-five percent of them are gonna get out back into your community. What do you want them to be like when they get out?"
As proof positive of the problem, a 17-year-old teen recently committed suicide while in solitary confinement. The teen had no criminal history to speak of prior to being convicted to adult prison for vehicular homicide in 2008. After spending weeks in solitary confinement, the psychological strain became too much and the teen took his life.
While not all stories are as tragic as his, it does provide some food for thought – can we do better?
If you have been charged with a crime or are under investigation for criminal activity, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Contact our San Diego Criminal Defense office at 619-239-2186 to setup an initial consultation.