Thousands of American adolescents are subjected to solitary confinement after being charged with crimes, convicted, and sentenced as adults.
Solitary confinement is dangerous for juveniles. It causes severe psychological harm and impedes reintegration into society. “It’s time to put convicted teenagers in correctional facilities with people their own age, and prohibit solitary confinement for those under the age of 18,” writes Emily Restivo, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral sciences, in a Salon op-ed.
Solitary confinement is linked to mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and psychosis. These effects are especially pronounced in juveniles because solitary confinement impedes their social and emotional development during a critical period of brain growth, Restivo says, adding that solitary confinement also endangers law-abiding members of society. “Prisoners who spend time in solitary confinement are more likely to commit crimes again in the future,” she writes.
Each year 200,000 children are tried as adults around the country. Many are sentenced to regular, adult prisons and face solitary confinement.
Based on research she and a colleague recently completed, Restivo cites that among juveniles sent to adult prisons in New Jersey, 76 percent spent some time in solitary confinement. Of that group, 31 percent spent more than 90 days in isolation; another 16.5 percent were isolated between 30 to 90 days.
Solitary confinement does nothing to rehabilitate young offenders. “We need to ensure children tried and convicted as adults are placed in juvenile facilities. Once there, they should be given opportunities to socialize with other kids and receive the support services they need to one day become productive, law-abiding adults,” Restivo concludes.
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