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End Juvenile Solitary Confinement in Florida's Prisons

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The Florida Department of Corrections website calls it “close management” and describes it as “confinement of an inmate apart from the general inmate population.” It’s intended for “inmates who commit acts that threaten the safety of others, threaten the security of the institution, or demonstrate an inability to live in the general population without abusing the rights and privileges of others.”

What the DOC doesn’t acknowledge is the fact that inmates are also put in “close management” for trivial reasons like talking back, refusing to obey an order, or failing to show up to a work or school program. There is no mention of the fact that Florida has one of the highest rates of the use of solitary confinement in the country. There is no mention of Florida being notorious for the abuse perpetrated to inmates in solitary confinement and its deceptively-named branches, including a mentally ill man being scalded to death with hot water by guards in 2012 in the transitional care unit of the Dade Correctional Institution.

There is also no mention of the debilitating effects that solitary confinement has on those who are subjected to it, which include, as detailed in a report by the American Civil Liberties Union:

  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts
  • Self harm
  • Distortion of time
  • Feelings of depression, rage, and anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Physical results of being confined to a small space for an extended period of time (most often about 80 square feet, smaller than a single stall in a horse stable, for 22-23 hours a day) 
  • Aggravation of existing mental illness

And these effects are only worsened when those being put in solitary confinement are juveniles whose brains are still developing. As Florida has a high rate of solitary confinement, it also as the highest rate of charging juveniles as adults in the nation. Juveniles in adult facilities already have suicide rates about 36 times higher than those in juvenile facilities - throw in the psychological problems that arise from solitary confinement and take out proper mental health care, and what results is a human rights crisis that carries on day by day in our state prisons. As the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry warns, “Due to their developmental vulnerability, juvenile offenders are at particular risk of such adverse reactions.”

The use of solitary confinement on juveniles is often justified by the crucial need to separate them from adult offenders, as mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act. It’s the compliance with this act that Florida Department of Corrections curtly responded with when asked by a collection of human rights organizations whether special consideration is being given to protecting juveniles from “the physical and psychological burdens of confinement.” But the alternative to the sexual assault of juveniles should not be their psychological ruin. There are better methods to separating and protecting juveniles from adults in adult prisons than putting them in a situation that is well-known to cause overwhelmingly detrimental effects that they are particularly vulnerable to. 

An investigation into - and subsequent diminishing of - the use and effects of solitary confinement on juveniles in adult state prisons would lead to the development of safer living conditions within those prisons. It would lead to a more rehabilitative environment for juvenile offenders, reducing the likelihood of them recidivating. Therefore, it would promote the safety of not only the individual, but of society.

President Obama has banned the use of solitary confinement on juveniles in federal prisons, calling it “an affront to our common humanity.” The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry opposes the use of solitary confinement on juveniles and suggests that “other interventions should be implemented.” The United Nations states that “disciplinary measures constituting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment shall be strictly prohibited, including...placement in a dark cell, closed or solitary confinement or any other punishment that may compromise the physical or mental health of the juvenile concerned.” In fact, the United Nations Committee Against Torture states that the practice “can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities, or juveniles.” The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment - do the previously listed effects not constitute as cruel or unusual, especially when employed towards such a vulnerable demographic?

Again, the alternative to sexual assault should not be psychological ruin. Compliance with the prevention of sexual assault on juveniles is admirable - but this compliance does not presently show full concern for the safety and mental health of juveniles in our prison system. It only shows a disturbing lack of regard for humanity and a perversion of justice that ends up doing more harm to society than it does good.

Florida’s practice of solitary confinement of juveniles in its prisons is embarrassingly cruel and outdated. Florida is not the only contributor to the problem - but it could set a precedent in its contribution to the solution.

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