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Juvenile offenders and the threat of solitary confinement

We have previously written about the disturbing experiences many juveniles have when forced to interact with the criminal justice system. Here in Wisconsin and across the country, juvenile offenders accused of serious crimes often receive the same regard and same sentences as adult offenders.

This is in spite of evidence showing that teenagers often lack (as a matter of brain development) important skills such as impulse control and the ability to predict consequences. Juvenile offenders are also generally more capable of reform and rehabilitation than adults are. Sadly, however, the treatment young offenders receive while incarcerated can damage them for life.

Prison officials and human rights groups have long known that juveniles housed in adult jails and prisons face high risks of violence and sexual assault. But they also face dangers in juvenile correctional facilities as well. Perhaps the most significant dangers are the mental health effects of being placed in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is increasingly being seen as a form of torture that should rarely be used on adults and should never be used on kids. Yet the Department of Justice released a report in 2003 showing that approximately 15 percent of inmates in juvenile facilities had been held in solitary. Some inmates were as young as 10 years old. For juveniles held in adult facilities, the percentages are likely even higher. Solitary is often used as a way to protect these young inmates from other abuses they might face from adult prisoners.

Human beings are social creatures. We need to interact with other humans. Solitary confinement can quickly lead to anxiety and depression (manifesting as suicidal thoughts) and can even lead to forms of insanity. It does not seem to be effective as a rehabilitative tool and likely makes inmates less mentally stable than they might otherwise be.

Regardless of whether or not a juvenile offender faces the threat of solitary confinement, it is clear that the juvenile justice system is broken and that adult correctional facilities are ill-equipped to house juvenile inmates. If your son or daughter is facing criminal charges of any kind, the stakes are very high. As such, you should seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.

Source: The New York Times, “End Solitary Confinement for Teenagers,” Ian M. Kysel, Dec. 16, 2014

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