More Good Criminal Justice News

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It’s a twofer this afternoon. In addition to the Supreme Court’s ruling on life without parole for juveniles, President Obama announced yesterday that he has issued executive orders outlawing solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.

President Obama on Monday announced a ban on solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in the federal prison system, saying the practice is overused and has the potential for devastating psychological consequences.

In an op-ed that appears in Tuesday editions of The Washington Post, the president outlines 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 dictate that the longest a prisoner can be punished with solitary confinement for a first offense is 60 days, rather than the current maximum of 365 days.

In an op-ed in today’s Post, the president writes:

Research suggests that solitary confinement has the potential to lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences. It has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior. Some studies indicate that it can worsen existing mental illnesses and even trigger new ones. Prisoners in solitary are more likely to commit suicide, especially juveniles and people with mental illnesses.

The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance. Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society. Imagine having served your time and then being unable to hand change over to a customer or look your wife in the eye or hug your children.

The right decision. Solitary confinement is barbaric and inhuman, and it is used punitively in too many of our prisons in both the federal and state systems. While Obama’s order can’t apply directly to the states, it sets a standard that will move the needle for state action in the same direction.

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