Shocking. Informing. Demanding Reform:
Juvenile Law Center Issues Report on Solitary Confinement
“I didn’t know what was going to happen. I kept thinking ‘what if I get lost in the system here.’ I thought they had forgot about me….It’s like you’re sitting there wondering ‘what if they forget about me in this cell, I’ve been in here for days.’” C.H.
I have been working in the field of children’s rights for over 35 years and I am actually sickened by our country’s widespread use of solitary confinement for youth in juvenile justice facilities. It is brutal. Inhumane.
Juvenile Law Center’s national report on solitary confinement in juvenile facilities, released today, suggests that youth of color, LGBTQ youth, and youth with disabilities may face solitary confinement more than their peers — and notes the troubling lack of data on these issues. Just take a moment and visualize any child you love locked for 23 hours a day in a solitary cell. Maybe a mattress, but likely just a mat. Maybe a blanket but unlikely a book, pen or any form of recreation. I am horrified at this practice in facilities across the country. Now, we have information and strategies for action.
Juvenile Law Center is holding a Capitol Hill briefing at 2pm today to release our comprehensive report, Unlocking Youth: Legal Strategies to End Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Facilities. Combining in-depth research with youth voices, family statements, and public defender survey results, the report is both shocking and informative. Richard Ross’ photos starkly portray the brutality of solitary cells for children. The report also lays out an agenda for reform that includes guidance for policy change, litigation and juvenile defense practices, all emphasizing community partnerships.
Solitary confinement does not make us safer. It does not make facilities safer. Many facilities no longer use solitary confinement, and President Obama banned its use for youth in the federal system in 2016. Yet, the use of solitary confinement persists in states across the country.
“It’s a small cell, it’s like a brick…a little bitty bed mat, a dirty blanket, a towel, a little bitty bar of soap…I had to hand wash my boxers just to have them clean.” D.B.
Solitary confinement has been used in the United States since the mid-1800’s. By the end of that century, the Supreme Court was already citing studies showing that individuals subjected to solitary confinement “became violently insane.” Yet, over a century later, we still use this inhumane practice on our most vulnerable youth- many of whom have suffered trauma in their young lives, multiplying the harm of solitary confinement. Eddie Ellis described his descent into lethargy and then depression:
“It had to be 10, 12, 13 hours a day that I would sleep. For me, I was a very energetic person. Played sports all my life, loved sports, couldn’t stand still. For some reason, being in there just took all the energy out of me…As a teen, for me, I was dealing with some depression, a little bit. But when I got locked up, the depression became tenfold.”
Juvenile Law Center publishes authoritative reports like Unlocking Youth to educate and provide recommendations for action. We are also livestreaming today’s Hill briefing on Juvenile Law Center’s Facebook page at 2pm EST — we hope you will watch. Join with us in our efforts to ban the brutal use of solitary confinement against our youth — consider making a donation today.