From now on, no juveniles will face solitary confinement in federal prison thanks to President Obama. On Monday, POTUS announced a ban, saying the practice is overused and has the potential for horrific psychological consequences, according to reports.
The president detailed a series of executive actions in a Tuesday op-ed in The Washington Post that also prohibits corrections officials from punishing prisoners who commit “low-level infractions” with solitary confinement and adds that the new maximum for a first offense is 60 days (versus the current maximum of 365 days.)
“The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance,” he wrote, adding that the practice should only be “used only as a measure of last resort.”
Beginning the op-ed, Obama referenced the tragic story of a young man, Kalief Browder, who as a 16-year-old was accused of stealing a backpack. He spent three years—with nearly two years of that time spent in solitary confinement—at Rikers Island in New York awaiting trial. Upon his release in 2013, Browder dealt with the aftermath of the trauma of his experience of being locked up alone for 24 hours and subsequently committed suicide at home at the age of 23.
“As president, my most important job is to keep the American people safe,” the President wrote. “And since I took office, overall crime rates have decreased by more than 15 percent. In our criminal justice system, the punishment should fit the crime—and those who have served their time should leave prison ready to become productive members of society. 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.”
Roughly 10,000 federal inmates serving time in solitary confinement will be immediately impacted by the new rules, though there are only a handful of juvenile offenders placed in restrictive housing each year.
According to the Washington Post, between September 2014 and September 2015, only 13 juveniles were put in solitary in federal prisons, officials said, but officials sent adult inmates to solitary for nonviolent offenses 3,800 times in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2014.
Six months ago, Obama ordered the Justice Department to study how solitary confinement was being used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. These measures continue work to reform the system by the administration.