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Obama Bans Juvenile Solitary Confinement

Juvenile offenders serving time in the federal prison system will no longer be placed in solitary confinement, thanks to a ban announced by President Obama earlier this week.

In an op-ed published by The Washington Post on Tuesday, the president outlined a series of executive actions that also prohibit federal corrections officials from punishing prisoners who commit “low-level infractions” with solitary confinement.

The new rules also set time limits on how long a prisoner can be placed in solitary confinement. For a first offense, officials can only punish a prisoner for 60 days as opposed to the current maximum of a year.

Studies have shown that solitary confinement has damaging psychological effects on the brain. Being confined alone in a cell for most, if not all of the day with minimal social interaction has “profoundly deleterious effect on mental functioning,” according to a study released by Washington University’s Journal of Law & Policy.

Roughly 10,000 inmates serving time in solitary confinement will be affected by the new reforms. That means that roughly 10,000 inmates will have a chance to escape the long-term effects of solitary confinement.

America leads the world in prolonged incarceration, particularly solitary confinement, as a means of dealing with criminal behavior. But the level of mental disturbance that results from such punishment is nothing to be proud of.

Stringent conditions of confinement can result in florid delirium, paranoia, severe confusion and hallucinations, according to the Journal of Law & Policy. 

“How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people?” Obama wrote in his op-ed. “It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.”

The reforms are part of a broader criminal justice reform push led by the president that ordered the Justice Department to study how solitary confinement was being used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Read the president’s full editorial here.