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President Obama Announces Ban On Solitary Confinement For Juveniles

January 31, 2016 ·  By Mike Newman for



President Obama on Monday morning published an op-ed in the Washington Post about solitary confinement of juveniles.

On Monday President Obama announced that federal prisons would no longer use solitary confinement for juveniles or for inmates serving time for low-level infractions.

Last summer, I directed Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and the Justice Department to review the overuse of solitary confinement across USA prisons.

Changes in the practice of solitary confinement are a part of bipartisan push to reform criminal justice, Obama wrote, promising more amendments to come. Other studies suggest it can worsen existing mental illness. The steps also call for expanding treatment for mentally ill prisoners.

He said USA states that have worked to cut back their use of the technique have seen drops in assaults on staff and more prisoners engage in rehabilitation programs. “Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society“. “It doesn’t make us safer”. And knowing the effects of solitary confinement which include depression, alienation, and reduced ability to interact with others, it is an insult to the common humanity.

Obama said in a speech at the NAACP convention in July.

The changes could affect as many as 10,000 federal inmates, which represents only a tenth of the prisoner population held in solitary confinement across the country. On Tuesday, President Obama announced in an article in The Washington Post that he plans to limit the number of inmates, especially juveniles, who are forced to spend up to 23 hours per day locked up in solitary.

He was jailed for three years without a trial – at times in solitary confinement – before being released in 2013, before killing himself last year. He further emphasized that people make mistakes on a daily basis and instead of castigating them it’s better to give them a chance to remake their lives.

There are times when solitary is necessary – particularly to protect inmate, staff and public safety – but the practice “should be used rarely, applied fairly and subjected to reasonable restraints”, the DOJ wrote in the report. Conservatives have started to join the fight to end solitary confinement on the basis that it constitutes a form of torture and undermines principles of morality and personhood. It’s a change many advocates of prison reform have sought who’ve argued that the practice results in long-term complications for offenders.

Though the president said there is still a need for prisons and for the use of solitary confinement in some situations, overall, the prison system should be “smarter, fairer, less expensive and more effective”.

Obama has made criminal justice reform a priority for his final year in office.

The president’s announcement also could encourage lawmakers to act in states where solitary for youth is at the top of reformers’ agendas.


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