Casey Supports National Campaign to Stop Solitary for Kids

Posted May 24, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog caseysupportsstopsolitarycampaign 2016

Richard Ross for Juvenile in Justice

In an essay titled Soli­tary Tor­ture” in the May 2016 issue of Sojourn­ers Mag­a­zine, Daniel Men­doza wrote: For 23 hours a day, I was kept in a win­dow­less room small­er than a horse sta­ble. How does this make us safer?” Daniel spent rough­ly two months in soli­tary con­fine­ment dur­ing the four and a half years he was incar­cer­at­ed in a Cal­i­for­nia juve­nile hall.

As if he were answer­ing Daniel, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma wrote recent­ly in The Wash­ing­ton Post that soli­tary doesn’t make us safer and that it’s an affront to our com­mon human­i­ty.” Thou­sands of young peo­ple are held in soli­tary con­fine­ment each year across the coun­try, yet research shows that soli­tary makes kids worse with­out mak­ing facil­i­ties safer.

Researchers have linked soli­tary con­fine­ment to last­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal con­se­quences, includ­ing anti-social behav­ior, anx­i­ety and self-harm. Soli­tary con­fine­ment is most dam­ag­ing to young peo­ple because they are still devel­op­ing men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly. Yet the use of room con­fine­ment for dis­ci­pline, pun­ish­ment, admin­is­tra­tive con­ve­nience, retal­i­a­tion and staffing short­ages remains com­mon prac­tice, and has been doc­u­ment­ed in reports such as the Foundation’s Mal­treat­ment of Youth in U.S. Juve­nile Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ties. This mal­treat­ment under­mines the devel­op­ment of young peo­ple who get into trou­ble with the law and expos­es them to grave dan­gers while fail­ing to improve pub­lic safety.

The Foun­da­tion is sup­port­ing the Stop Soli­tary for Kids cam­paign to end soli­tary con­fine­ment of youth in juve­nile and adult facil­i­ties in the Unit­ed States. The Foun­da­tion is join­ing forces to end this prac­tice with a grow­ing coali­tion of orga­ni­za­tions and advo­cates led by the Cen­ter for Children’s Law and Pol­i­cy, the Cen­ter for Juve­nile Jus­tice Reform at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty, the Coun­cil of Juve­nile Cor­rec­tion­al Admin­is­tra­tors and the Jus­tice Pol­i­cy Insti­tute along with agency direc­tors and facil­i­ty lead­ers, among others.

The Foun­da­tion is ded­i­cat­ed to work­ing with juve­nile jus­tice sys­tems around the coun­try to improve con­di­tions in juve­nile deten­tion and cor­rec­tions facil­i­ties. Toward this end, the Foun­da­tion has pub­lished a set of com­pre­hen­sive stan­dards for the treat­ment of youth that offi­cials have used to improve con­di­tions, poli­cies and prac­tices in their facil­i­ties. One such stan­dard is to use iso­la­tion only as a tem­po­rary response to behav­ior that threat­ens imme­di­ate harm to a youth or oth­ers. The Foundation’s resources and tools relat­ed to reduc­ing soli­tary con­fine­ment are free down­loads and avail­able to all facil­i­ty administrators.

When young peo­ple are removed from their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, they should not be placed in insti­tu­tions ori­ent­ed toward pun­ish­ing them fur­ther. Rather, they should go to facil­i­ties ded­i­cat­ed to sup­port­ing their devel­op­ment and chang­ing their think­ing and behavior.

Daniel Men­doza, who wrote Soli­tary Tor­ture, works with the Casey Foun­da­tion as a youth part­ner­ship con­sul­tant while attend­ing col­lege. His future was almost derailed by his two months in soli­tary con­fine­ment. When he was released from iso­la­tion, he was scared to go to school because he felt like he was under con­stant threat and was afraid about how he would react. Crowds made him anx­ious. He cred­its his strong sup­port sys­tem with keep­ing him on track and observes how many oth­ers strug­gled on their own and nev­er recov­ered from isolation.

Young peo­ple in the jus­tice sys­tem should not have to defy the odds to remake their lives,” said Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group. We need to change the odds so that Daniel isn’t the rare suc­cess sto­ry. All young peo­ple can change and deserve guid­ance, sup­port and new oppor­tu­ni­ties to get there.”

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