The Washington Post published a Barack Obama opinion piece on Monday, January 25, in which the president announced he is banning solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons, noting concerns about its harmful psychological effects.
Last summer, Obama directed the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a review of the practice, and this new package of changes includes an expansion of treatment for mentally ill prisoners, and an increase in the amount of time inmates in solitary can spend outside of their cells. Some 10,000 federal prisoners are affected by the new procedures that also mandate solitary confinement could no longer be used as a punishment for low-level infractions.
The move echoes a U.S. national movement demanding criminal justice reform, arising in part from numerous high-profile police killings in the last few years. Mr. Obama in particular cited the story of Kalief Browder, a black 16-year-old who was arrested in 2010 and spent almost two years in solitary in New York’s Rikers Island jail before his release in 2013 and eventual suicide two years later. The president said research suggests solitary confinement is linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others, and the potential for violent behaviour.
He noted that U.S. states have worked to cut back the use of segregation in their penal institutions and have seen drops in assaults on staff, and more prisoners engage in rehabilitation programs as a result. The president hopes the changes he’s ordered will encourage reforms in all state and local prisons. “There are as many as 100,000 people held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons – including juveniles and people with mental illnesses,” he said. “As many as 25,000 inmates are serving months, even years of their sentences alone in a tiny cell.”
President Obama wrote that solitary confinement is “increasingly overused on people…..with heartbreaking results – which is why my administration is taking steps to address this problem.”
Take that, Stephen Harper! Justin Trudeau, pay attention!