Standing up for young americans


The Facts

  • In 2011, more than 95,000 young people under the age of 18 were held in adult jails and prisons across the U.S. In these facilities, children as young as 13 are being placed in solitary confinement.

  • While youth under 18 make up less than 1 percent of the total population in these adult facilities, they comprise 21 percent of the victims of inmate-perpetrated sexual assault. Placing young inmates in solitary is often justified as the only means to keep them safe from abusive adult prisoners.

  • In Texas, children who cannot afford to post bail can be placed in solitary for months or even years while awaiting trial. In some jurisdictions, juveniles in adult facilities wait 5 times as long for trial as adults held in the same place.

  • These periods of solitary confinement force young prisoners to be alone in a cell for more than 22 hours a day with limited access to exercise, reading and writing materials, contact with family members, educational programming, drug treatment or mental health services.

  • Young people who enter the criminal justice system frequently already have histories of substance abuse, mental illness, and trauma, which are only made worse by the deprivations of solitary confinement.

Why We Should Care

  • In 2005, the Supreme Court banned the death penalty for juvenile offenders because “people under 18 are immature, irresponsible, susceptible to peer-pressure and often capable of change.” This logic has not yet been applied to sentencing and housing juveniles in the adult system.

  • Solitary confinement is known to harm even previously healthy adults, so for children’s special developmental needs, the damage can be even greater. Scientific research has shown that young people’s brains are still developing and this places them at higher risk of psychological harm in these situations.

  • Compared to their counterparts in juvenile detention, kids held in adult facilities are 36% more likely to commit suicide and the vast majority of youth suicides in detention occur in isolation.

Our Time Opinion

The facts speak for themselves. Our “corrections” system isn’t “correcting” minors by putting them in solitary confinement or in situations with a high likelihood of suicide or sexual abuse. We need to reform this outdated system to focus on correction and rehabilitation so these children can get out of the penal system and become productive citizens.

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