In an op-ed
in the Washington Post today, President Barack Obama outlined a series of executive actions to reform the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons, including banning the use of the practice for juvenile offenders and as a punishment for prisoners who commit "low-level infractions." In addition, the maximum amount of time that a prisoner can be held in solitary confinement for a first offense will be 60 days, down from the current maximum of 365 days.
From the president's op-ed
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.
While a very small number of the thousands put into solitary confinement in federal prison are juveniles, the results of that practice can be horrific. The president cited the case of Kalief Browder
, a 16-year-old from the Bronx charged with stealing a backpack. The case was eventually dismissed, but he spent three years in Rikers awaiting trial, including two years in solitary confinement. Browder later committed suicide.
From the op-ed:
Research suggests that solitary confinement has the potential to lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences. It has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior. Some studies indicate that it can worsen existing mental illnesses and even trigger new ones. Prisoners in solitary are more likely to commit suicide, especially juveniles and people with mental illnesses.
The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance. Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society. Imagine having served your time and then being unable to hand change over to a customer or look your wife in the eye or hug your children.
Obama's executive action on federal prisons is an important step, but it's important to keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of prisoners are held in state or local jails.
I wonder whether Sen. Tom Cotton
, who has been trying to demagogue this issue of late
, will shout that Obama is soft on crime.