Solitary confinement is defined as the isolation of an incarcerated individual for 22 to 24 hours per day sometimes lasting for weeks, months, and in some cases, even years. The only interactions a detainee can expect during solitary are brief encounters with prison guards.
The Reality of Solitary Confinement
The use of solitary confinement is not limited to adult facilities alone; it is also used in juvenile facilities across the United States. Its use is still largely supported by juvenile corrections administrations and officers; as many of them face serious overcrowding and understaffing issues, solitary presents itself as a convenient disciplinary tool. Justice-involved youth may be sent to isolation for a number of different reasons; from fighting or being disruptive, to suicide prevention. They can even find themselves sent for reasons that have no bearing on their behavior, such as if they are being threatened by other youths in the detention center, or if the youth is technically too young to be in the facility.
The cells consist of four concrete walls, and are typically the size of an average parking space. Though many don’t, some have windows that are either too high or have clouded glass so that a person cannot see outside. There is a bed, sometimes made of concrete and devoid of a mattress, and a toilet/sink combo. Young boys and girls in the system who experience this form of treatment are often denied basic things such as sheets, reading and writing materials, eating utensils, showers, medical or mental health care, and any form of education. They are also typically refused communication with others, totally cutting them off from the outside world.
One of the biggest issues that justice-involved youth often experience are episodes of self-inflicted violence and thoughts of suicide, both during and after spending time in solitary. An estimated 53% of youth committed acts of self-harm while isolated, including self-mutilation such as cutting. The fact that suicide prevention is one of the more prevalent reasons a juvenile is sent to a confined cell in the first place is rather ironic in the light of a study released by the Department of Justice. The nationwide survey aimed to shine a spotlight on youth suicides that occurred within detention centers each year. The survey found that more than 62% of the minors that committed suicide while in a facility had a history of being sent to solitary confinement. Other mental health issues experienced during confinement include auditory and visual hallucinations, anxiety disorders, and social disorders.
In 2018, the First Step Act and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Action (JJDPA) were passed by congress. This action was a significant step in terminating youth solitary confinement. The First Step Act only permits isolation when the behavior of the youth poses a risk of physical harm that cannot be defused. Further, the JJDPA requires data from the state on the use of restraints, solitary, and their strategies to reduce isolation. While the use of solitary confinement may be becoming less and less common, the fact that it is still in use at all is extremely troubling. With so much research underlining the severe emotional and mental trauma it causes to justice-involved youth, it is undeniable that solitary confinement is not a route that leads to rehabilitated offenders.
Orbis Partners provides solutions for criminal justice and human services systems, specializing in designing and implementing services for at-risk client groups. Orbis offers Web MAYSI-2, a cloud-based screening tool used to help juvenile justice programs quickly identify special mental health needs in youth. This tool is administered in juvenile probation, diversion programs, and intake in juvenile detention or corrections.
For more information about our Youth Mental Health Assessment, visit our website by clicking here.