Skip to main content

When we hear about solitary confinement, we often imagine it as a form of extreme punishment inflicted on the most vicious and dangerous criminals in prison. The last thing you would expect is for this practice to be inflicted on children. But it is.

Written by Yasmin Vafa for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

When we hear about solitary confinement, we often imagine it as a form of extreme punishment inflicted on the most vicious and dangerous criminals in prison. The last thing you would expect is for this practice to be inflicted on children.

But it is. All across this country, children are being placed in solitary for a host of different reasons ranging from ‘protection’ to the most minor misbehaviors.  

This practice is even more disturbing when you consider the distinct pathways of girls into the juvenile justice system. We often talk about the “school-to-prison pipeline” for boys —but for girls, it is a totally different narrative, more readily identified as the “sexual-violence-to prison pipeline.” According to the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention, approximately 600,000 girls are arrested in the U.S. annually. Most of these girls are remanded for non-violent offenses such as truancy, running away, loitering, alcohol and substance use, and violations to prior court orders for non-violent status offenses. Moreover, evidence shows that 73 percent of girls in juvenile detention have previously suffered some form of physical or sexual abuse. This abuse is often the factor that propelled the child into the juvenile justice system, as it is often the abuse that is the root cause of the girls’ running away, becoming truant, substance abuse, etc. 

Once inside, girls are forced to maneuver a system that does not address their specific needs or take into account the complex trauma they have endured. Family court judges and detention center staff are rarely provided appropriate trauma training and are generally unaware of the damaging impact of policies such as strip searches, physical restraints, and particularly solitary confinement on survivors of physical and sexual abuse and trauma. 

There is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the severe psychiatric consequences of placing individuals, and particularly children in solitary confinement.  Prisoners who have experienced solitary confinement have been shown to engage in self-mutilation at much higher rates than the average population. These prisoners are also known to attempt or commit suicide more often than those who were not held in isolation. In fact, studies show that juveniles are 19 times more likely to kill themselves in isolation than in general population and that juveniles in general, have the highest suicide rates of all inmates in jails.

Despite all these facts, when girls in the juvenile justice system express evidence of or the desire to self harm, the typical response is to put them in solitary confinement. While these girls are being placed in solitary for their own protection, there is no consideration given to the fact that such practices deepen existing trauma. When subjected to isolation, these youth are often locked down for 23 hours per day in small cells with no natural light.  This confinement can last several days, weeks or even months, which leads to severe anxiety, paranoia, and further exacerbation of mental distress. The ACLU has reported that in certain juvenile detention facilities, girls are restrained with brutal force and are “regularly locked up in solitary confinement — a punishment used for minor misbehaviors as well as for girls who express wanting to hurt themselves.”

For example, after conducting interviews with a number of girls in juvenile detention, the ACLU uncovered that some of the reasons behind girls’ solitary confinement were as trivial as giving their crying friend a hug and singing “Happy Birthday.” The report goes on to say that “[n]ot receiving proper treatment and left alone with their emotions, many girls are driven to cut themselves, bang their heads against the concrete walls, and attempt suicide,” which often lead detention facility staff to respond with “physical restraint, pepper spray, and further solitary confinement.” These approaches are simply unacceptable when you take into account the abuse suffered by the vast majority of these girls and their dire need for services and interventions.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Human Rights, and Civil Rights is holding the first-ever Congressional hearing on the issue of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails. One of the issues that we hope is brought to light during this hearing is the practice of solitary confinement of girls in the juvenile justice system. Numerous studies show the damaging effects of solitary confinement on children and particularly children with proven histories of mental and physical trauma.  Due to the fact that such a large percentage of girls entering juvenile detention have endured sexual and/or physical trauma, isolation techniques are not an appropriate disciplinary or protective measure on this vulnerable population of children. This abuse of abuse victims must stop. It is time to finally look at this invisible population. A population of girls in need of services — not further victimization under the guise of rehabilitation.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site