Obama Bans Solitary Confinement for Juveniles

Move covers only those in federal prison
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 25, 2016 8:33 PM CST
In this July 16, 2015, file photo, President Obama visits the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Okla.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, file)

(Newser) – President Obama thinks solitary confinement does far more harm than good when it comes to juvenile offenders, and he's now banning the punishment outright in federal prisons. The president laid out his reasoning in a Washington Post op-ed, declaring that "the United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance." Instead of rehabilitation, it's more likely to result in long-term psychological damage, he said. Obama also ordered federal prisons to restrict the use of solitary confinement with adult prisoners and to expand treatment of inmates with mental illness. USA Today notes that the juvenile ban won't affect many kids: It covers only federal facilities, which house few juveniles. As of December, 71 juveniles were in Bureau of Prisons sites, and only 13 of them had spent any time at all in solitary in the previous year.

Still, Obama writes that he hopes the federal action will "serve as a model" for state and local facilities, where the vast majority of juvenile offenders are held. “How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people?” he writes. “It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.” In a statement, Amnesty International called the reforms "a momentous break with this shameful legacy, and an acknowledgement that tens of thousands of human beings should not be condemned to live in a cage." In a separate story, the Washington Post notes that at least 12 states have taken steps in the last year or two to curb solitary confinement, sometimes as the result of lawsuits. (Read more President Obama stories.)

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