- OHCHROffice of United High Commissioner for Human Rights
SOLITARY CONFINEMENT NO PLACE FOR CHILDREN
The United States is one of the only Nation in the world that allows children under 18 to be sentenced to life without parole.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report that more than 2,000 inmates are currently serving life without parole in the United States for crimes committed when they were juveniles; in the rest of the world, there are only 12 juveniles serving the same sentence, according to figures reported to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Human Rights Watch and the ACLU estimate that in 2011, more than 95,000 young people under age 18 were held in prisons and jails. A significant number of these facilities use solitary confinement, for days, weeks, months, or even years, to punish, protect, house, or treat some of the young people held there.
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which was first passed in 1974 and most recently reauthorized in 2002, provides grants to States for juvenile crime prevention and intervention programs. To be eligible for these funds, States must comply with four “core protections” for youth in the justice system, including jail removal and sight and sound separation to protect children from contact with adult inmates. But because of a loophole in the law, children charged in the adult criminal system are excluded from these two protections.
Here are just 5 of the essential reasons to keep children out of adult jails and Solitary Confinement:
1. Children who are held in adult jails are at high risk of being sexually and physically assaulted. In 2006, for example, 13% the victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence in jails were under 18— even though only 1% of jail inmates were juveniles. Facts, gruesome facts, just published: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/06/06/3-Ohio-juvenile-detention-centers-rank-top-nationally-for-sexual-assaults.html
2. Children have the highest suicide rate of all inmates in jails.
Youth under 18 held in adult jails are much more likely to commit suicide compared to non-incarcerated youth and compared to youth held in juvenile detention facilities. Suicides in jails are disproportionately concentrated in the first few days of incarceration, so even children who are jailed for relatively short periods of time are at high risk.
3. Children in adult jails are denied access to education
Most incarcerated youth have not completed high school, yet 40% of jails provide no educational services. Nine out of 10 jails provide no special education services.
4. Many children are punished before being tried.
According to research commissioned by the Campaign for Youth Justice, two out of three juveniles charged as adults were detained pre-trial in an adult jail, for weeks or even months in many cases. Over a third of these defendants were charged with non-violent offenses. Most decisions to charge a child as an adult were made by prosecutors or legislators, not by judges.
5. Transferring children to the adult criminal system does not reduce crime.
In a systematic review of scientific evidence, the Task Force on Community Preventive Services found that transferring juveniles to the adult criminal justice system increased, not decreased, rates of violence among transferred youth..
Human Right Watch published “Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States” (Author: Ian Kysel) and documented the widespread use of solitary confinement for children or youth under the age of 18 in prisons and jails in 19 states.
Each day in 2008, there were more than 11,300 children under 18 being held in the nation’s adult prisons and jail.
Dr. Stuart Grassian wrote in Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement:
I. Specific Psychiatric Syndrome Associated with Solitary Confinement (selection)
a) Hyperresponsivity to External Stimuli: More than half the prisoners reported a progressive inability to tolerate ordinary stimuli.
b) Perceptual Distortions, Illusions, and Hallucinations: Almost a third of the prisoners described hearing voices, often in whispers and often saying frightening things to them. There were also reports of noises taking on increasing meaning and frightening significance.
c) Panic Attacks: Well over half the inmates interviewed described severe panic attacks while in SHU.
d) Difficulties with Thinking, Concentration, and Memory: Many reported symptoms of difficulty in concentration and memory. In some cases this problem was far more severe, leading to acute psychotic, confusional states.
e) Intrusive Obsessional Thoughts: Emergence of Primitive Aggressive Ruminations: Almost half the prisoners reported the emergence of primitive aggressive fantasies of revenge, torture, and mutilation of the prison guards. In each case the fantasies were described as entirely unwelcome, frightening, and uncontrollable.
f) Overt Paranoia: Almost half the prisoners interviewed reported paranoid and persecutory fears. Some of these persecutory fears were short of overt psychotic disorganization.
g) Problems with Impulse Control: Slightly less than half of the prisoners reported episodes of loss of impulse control with random violence.
II. This Syndrome has the Characteristics of an Acute Organic Brain Syndrome—A Delirium
These dramatic symptoms appeared to form a discreet syndrome—that is, a constellation of symptoms occurring together and with a characteristic course over time, thus suggestive of a discreet illness. Moreover, this syndrome was strikingly unique; some of the symptoms described above are found in virtually no other psychiatric illness. The characteristic acute dissociative, confusional psychoses are a rare phenomenon in psychiatry. Similarly, cases of random, impulsive violence in the context of such confusional state is exceedingly rare. But the most unique symptoms in this cluster are the striking and dramatically extensive perceptual disturbances experienced by the isolated person. Indeed, these disturbances are almost pathognomonic of the syndrome, meaning they are symptoms virtually found nowhere else.
For example, loss of perceptual constancy (objects becoming larger and smaller, seeming to “melt” or change form, sounds becoming louder and softer, etc.) is very rare and, when found, is far more commonly associated with neurological illness (especially seizure disorders and brain tumors affecting sensory integration areas of the brain) than with primary psychiatric illness.
Thus, the fact that all of these quite unusual symptoms ran together in the same syndrome was itself a clear confirmation of the distinct nature of this syndrome. While this syndrome is strikingly atypical for the functional psychiatric illnesses, it is quite characteristic of an acute organic brain syndrome: delirium, a syndrome characterized by a decreased level of alertness and EEG abnormalities; by the same perceptual and cognitive disturbances, fearfulness, paranoia, and agitation; and random, impulsive, and self ¬destructive behavior which I observed in the Walpole population.
Moreover, delirium is a syndrome which is known to result from the type of conditions, including restricted environmental stimulation, which are characteristic of solitary confinement. Even the EEG abnormalities characteristic of delirium have been observed in individuals exposed to conditions of sensory deprivation. By now the potentially catastrophic effects of restricted environmental stimulation have been the subject of a voluminous medical literature; annual international symposia are being held on the subject, and the issue has even found its way into the popular media. The literature is summarized in the appendices to this statement.
"Ninety-one percent of the children who are serving time in adult jails and prisons are serving time in jails and prisons for crimes that are not murder, crimes that are not sex crimes," he said.
Children in Prison
- Office of United High Commissioner for Human Rights
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