Academic journal article Iowa Law Review

No Child Left Alone: Why Iowa Should Ban Juvenile Solitary Confinement

Academic journal article Iowa Law Review

No Child Left Alone: Why Iowa Should Ban Juvenile Solitary Confinement

Article excerpt


Society has consistently recognized that children and adolescents are different from adults,1 but we did not understand the extent to which they differ until new scientific research emerged in the early 2000s.2 Over the past decade, the United States Supreme Court has adopted scientific research in a trilogy of opinions, reversing the national trend advocating for punitive juvenile jurisprudence.3 In 2005, the Court held in Roper v. Simmons that imposing the death penalty on juvenile offenders violated the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause.4 The Court found that because of the inherent differences between juveniles and adults, juveniles have diminished culpability, making them less deserving of society's most severe punishments.5 Five years later, the Court extended Roper's holding in Graham v. Florida by prohibiting states from sentencing juvenile offenders convicted of nonhomicide crimes to life without parole.6 In 2012, the Court once again used the rationale in Roper to reach its decision in Miller v. Alabama, where it held that the mandatory imposition of a life-without-parole sentence on any juvenile offender is unconstitutional.7 All three decisions not only emphasized the physiological differences between juveniles and adults, but also noted that because of juveniles' continuing development, the primary purpose in sanctioning juvenile offenders should be rehabilitation.8

In light of the Court's favorable stance on juvenile rehabilitation, this Note argues that juvenile solitary confinement serves no rehabilitative purpose and instead violates the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. This Note proposes that the Iowa Legislature ban the practice of juvenile solitary confinement, except for the limited circumstance in which there is no other measure to prevent a juvenile offender from immediately and substantially harming others. Part II provides an overview of the development of the American juvenile justice system and the movement towards more punitive juvenile sanctions. Part III explains the scientific research discovering the extent to which juveniles' mental faculties are underdeveloped and discusses the Court's incorporation of this research in its rationale behind its recent juvenile sentencing cases. Part IV introduces and analyzes the issues associated with juvenile solitary confinement, arguing its unconstitutionality and inappropriateness. Part V examines how other states have dealt with the issue of juvenile solitary confinement, and Part VI proposes that the Iowa Legislature prohibit the general use of juvenile solitary confinement as an unconstitutional practice.


The United States did not have a separate justice system for juveniles until the end of the 19th century; however, the underlying concept of courts treating juveniles and adults differently traces back to English common law.9 First, this Part discusses how the English common law's policies towards juveniles impacted the development of a juvenile justice system in the United States. Second, this Part examines how the purpose of juvenile courts evolved over time as the Supreme Court aligned juvenile proceedings with adult criminal proceedings. Finally, this Part concludes with an analysis of the most recent national trend-advocating a harsher, more punitive approach to juvenile sanctions.


Under English common law, a person was liable for a crime if there was will (intent to commit a crime) and an act (the actual commission of the crime).10 Without finding both will and an act, a court could not punish a person because the court could not find that the person had committed a crime.11 English common law recognized only three circumstances in which a person was incapable of committing a crime because of an inability to have will: (1) when a person had "a defect of understanding"; (2) when a person committed an act out of "misfortune and ignorance"; and (3) when a person committed an act out of "compulsion or necessity. …

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