Obama Bans Solitary Confinement For Kids And Low-Level Inmates

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On Monday, President Barack Obama announced that he was moving to ban solitary confinement, being locked up alone for 23 hours a day, for juveniles and low-level offenders as a form of punishment in federal prisons. The U.S. incarcerates children at a higher rate than any other country.

  • Solitary confinement results in profound neurological and psychological damage within children that did not previously exist
  • It’s estimated that over 70% of the kids we lock up suffer from mental health disorders

In 2010, a 16-year-old named Kalief Browder from the Bronx was accused of stealing a backpack. After being sent to Rikers Island to await trial, he reportedly was abused and spent nearly two years in solitary confinement. Kalief was released in 2013, having never stood trial. But life was a constant struggle to recover from the trauma. One Saturday, at 22 years old, he committed suicide at home.

Obama stated:

The Justice Department has completed its review, and I am adopting its recommendations to reform the federal prison system… These include banning solitary confinement for juveniles and as a response to low-level infractions, expanding treatment for the mentally ill and increasing the amount of time inmates in solitary can spend outside of their cells.

These steps will affect some 10,000 federal prisoners held in solitary confinement — and hopefully serve as a model for state and local corrections systems. And I will direct all relevant federal agencies to review these principles and report back to me with a plan to address their use of solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement restricts inmates to become productive members of society once freed. Imagine having served your time and then being unable to hand change over to a customer.

The new rules also dictate that the longest a prisoner can be punished with solitary confinement for a first offense is 60 days, rather than the current maximum of 365 days.

The move is another example of the extent to which the nation’s first African American president now seems willing to tackle delicate questions of race and criminal justice as he closes out his presidency.

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