A correctional facility is a difficult situation to be in, but solitary confinement is a whole other monster. There’s no getting away from the pounding sounds resonating endlessly, the animalistic cries coming from all ends of the unit, and the pained screams of frustration gone ignored by the correctional officers.
Granted, solitary confinement was created for a reason. However, if a juvenile offender was deemed a risk to the safety of other inmates or prison staff, the corrections officers were instructed to use all force necessary to stop whatever dangerous behavior the juvenile offender was engaging in and place them in solitary confinement. To be surrounded by those sounds for 22 hours or more a day, locked in a small cell with little to no light of day behind a steel door, and for months or years at a time is cruel and inhumane.
Isolation can cause serious psychological, physical and developmental harm to these young offenders, often times leading to the development of serious mental health issues and attempts of suicide. The psychological impact of solitary confinement is so great, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry even published a policy statement on the topic, saying that the consequences of solitary confinement on juvenile offenders, due to their developmental vulnerability, include depression, anxiety and psychosis and put them at risk of adverse reactions.
The American Psychological Association adds that additional reported mental health problems as a result of being in solitary confinement include panic, insomnia, paranoia and aggression. The United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty & the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry both agree that the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities for juveniles should not be an option.
With all these well-respected organizations clearly stating how detrimental solitary confinement is to the psychological development of a youth, why is there nothing being done to enforce a change in the current solitary confinement policies?
Like any great social movement, change takes time. California Senator Mark Leno (D) introduced Senate Bill 124, which, if passed, will impose stricter restrictions on the use of solitary confinement as punishment in juvenile correctional facilities. SB 124 would only allow the use of solitary confinement if the juvenile offender poses an immediate and substantial risk of harm to themselves, others or the facility security, not as a result of a mental disorder, and other less restrictive options have been used and proven ineffective.
The bill would also ban the use of consecutive periods of solitary confinement, restricting it to the minimum required time, but no longer than 4 hours, to address the threat without putting the mental and physical well-being of the juvenile offender at risk. Additionally, it restricts the use of solitary confinement entirely with juvenile offenders who are a danger to themselves or others as a result of a mental disorder or who are gravely disabled.
Juvenile offenders who fall in this category will be transferred to a designated mental health facility for evaluation. Correctional officers will be prohibited to use solitary confinement as a form of punishment, intimidation, convenience or retaliation if the bill is passed. Finally, the bill would also mandate each state and local juvenile facility to document the usage of solitary confinement to prevent it from being misused.
Although solitary confinement is not being completely eliminated, Senate Bill 124 is a fair compromise by allowing it to still be used, but with humane restrictions and in a way that will not hurt the juveniles psychologically or developmentally.
Kusi Peralta is a graduate student at the University of Southern California pursuing her Master of Social Work degree. She is deeply passionate about helping at-risk youth and homeless people of all ages, and looks forward to continuing to advocate for these populations.