Students React to Obama’s Ban on Placing Juveniles in Solitary Confinement
BY HENRY CHOY
President Barack Obama last week banned the practice of holding juveniles in solitary confinement in federal prisons, after stating that it could lead to lasting psychological consequences.
According to a Washington Post op-ed penned by the president, there are approximately 100,000 people held in solitary confinement in federal prisons. This number includes juveniles and people who suffer from mental illnesses.
The president said federal prisons would no longer use solitary confinement for juveniles or for inmates who commit low-level infractions. The upcoming change, along with expanded mental health treatment for inmates, will alter the current condition of about one-tenth of the current inmates in solitary confinement.
“[S]ociety can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” Obama said, quoting Pope Francis.
Students had positive reactions to the news.
“I support Obama’s new policy, as prison should be about rehabilitation, not punishment,” Kavish Wadhwa, ’19, said. “Solitary confinement has a negative psychological effect on juveniles and is likely to cause these juveniles to become repeat offenders. Hence, it is better to have strong rehabilitation facilities so that when these offenders are released, they can become productive members of society.”
According to research from “Regulating Prisons of the Future: A Psychological Analysis of Supermax and Solitary Confinement,” solitary confinement can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, worsen the conditions of inmates with mental illnesses, and potentially cause new ones.
President Obama discussed the trauma caused by solitary confinement by telling the story of Kalief Browder, a juvenile who spent two years in solitary confinement after being accused of stealing a backpack when he was 16-years-old. After being released, he struggled with the trauma caused by being alone for 23 hours a day and committed suicide at the age of 22.
Alondria Buggs, ’19, supports Obama’s new law because of the negative psychological effects solitary confinement can have on an individual.
“I do agree with the policy simply due to the fact that, yes, being locked up alone can [lead to] major mental issues,” she said. “As teens, we are to be interacting with others to help personal development, even if it is in jail. I think juveniles should be treated for the crimes they commit, but without withdrawal from the world completely.”
The ban on solitary confinement for juveniles comes as part of Obama’s broader push to reconstruct what he has called “a broken system” of criminal justice. He said that federal prisons are locking up too many Americans for too long and that there is a bias against black and Hispanic men.