Magazine article State Legislatures

Closing the Door on Solitary Confinement

Magazine article State Legislatures

Closing the Door on Solitary Confinement

Article excerpt

The use of solitary confinement of juveniles is being reassessed, as questions about its dangers grow. This form of punishment can include physical and social isolation in a cell for 22 to 24 hours a day, which can lead to depression, anxiety, psychosis and psychological and developmental harm, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Research also shows that more than half of all suicides in juvenile facilities occur while young people are held in isolation.

Proponents argue the use of isolation is an effective disciplinary measure that is necessary for the safety of staff and other juveniles, and for the security of the institution.

Nine state legislatures have passed new limits or prohibitions against the practice. Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas have passed laws, and measures have been introduced in California, Florida and Montana in the past two years.

The New Jersey law prohibits "room confinement" for more than two consecutive days for 15-year-olds, three days for those up to age 17 and five days for those older than 18. Other laws, such as Connecticut's, prohibit any child from being held in solitary confinement at any time, but allow the use of "seclusion" periodically, as long as the young person is checked every 30 minutes.

At the federal level, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act last October that, for the first time in decades, proposes significant changes to federal criminal and juvenile justice laws. …

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