President Obama is hoping states consider banning solitary confinement for juveniles.
President Obama announced Monday he will ban the use of solitary confinement on juvenile inmates in federal custody — and he cited the notorious case of a teen held at Rikers Island as an example of the punishment’s “devastating, lasting psychological consequences.”
Writing in an op-ed for The Washington Post, Obama said he would also restrict the use of solitary confinement on adult prisoners who commit “low-level infractions” and expand treatment for mentally ill inmates.
“How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity,” Obama wrote.
FORMER RIKERS ISLAND INMATE KILLED HIMSELF DAYS BEFORE FACING NEW CHARGES IN COURT
Glenn Martin, president of the correctional reform group Just Leadership USA, hailed Obama’s “courage” to make the move. He noted the measures society takes to protect teens.
“Young people can’t drive, they can’t smoke cigarettes, they can’t drink alcohol … yet when it comes to crime and punishment we seem willing to operate in ways that don’t take into account what the research shows us,” Martin said.
Obama cited the case of Kalief Browder, who killed himself after he was released from Rikers. Browder spent more than 400 days in solitary confinement at Rikers.
He pointed to studies showing that solitary causes depression and other lasting psychological trauma in teens.
In explaining the change, Obama pointed to the tragedy surrounding Bronx teen Kalief Browder.
At only 16 years old, Browder was locked up in Rikers for three years while awaiting trial on charges that were eventually dropped. He was beaten in jail by correction officers and inmates and spent more than 400 days in solitary confinement.
RIKERS OFFICIALS WANT TO PUSH BACK PLANS TO END SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR YOUNGER INMATES
After getting out of jail, Browder enrolled in Bronx Community College, but, haunted by his experience at Rikers, suffered bouts of depression that triggered suicide attempts and a stay in the psych ward at Harlem Hospital.
In January 2015, Mayor de Blasio announced he would ban solitary confinement for inmates 21 and younger at Rikers. But the plan has yet to be implemented.
In June 2015, the tormented man hanged himself with an air conditioning cord days before he was due back in court on new charges. He was 22.
Obama’s reforms will affect a small number of juvenile inmates.
Between September 2014 and September 2015, federal authorities reported only 13 juveniles held in solitary, according to The Washington Post.
About 10,000 federal inmates are held in solitary.
But Obama said he hoped the reform would inspire states to consider similar measures.
The psychological effects of solitary confinement have ignited calls to end the use of such punishment.
In January of last year, Mayor de Blasio announced he would eliminate the use of solitary confinement for Rikers Island inmates 21 and younger.
That plan has yet to be implemented.
Earlier this month, Correction Department Commissioner Joseph Ponte penned a letter to the city asking for the much-touted plan to be pushed back until June, citing “certain issues and considerations” related to safety at the scandal-scarred city jail.
The number of young adults held in solitary confinement at Rikers has dropped from 253 to 41 since Ponte took over in April 2014, a city spokeswoman told the Daily News at the time.
The delay will not affect 16- and 17-year-olds who are already not allowed to be held in solitary, she said.
“We believe that when people make mistakes, they deserve the opportunity to remake their lives,” Obama wrote.
With Reuven Blau
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