Solitary confinement has long been a feature of the criminal justice system, either to punish or protect inmates, with about 75,000 state and federal prisoners in solitary. Children or teenagers in isolation in adult jails for their own safety are a mostly invisible sub-group of those in solitary, says the New York Times. “Juveniles are more vulnerable to abuse by adults, including sexual abuse, and they have rights to special protections,” said Ian Kysel, an adjunct professor and a fellow at the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown University Law Center. “In some places that might mean putting them in juvenile facilities.”
Solitary confinement is increasingly being questioned by mental health officials, criminologists, and recently by President Obama. Experts say its effects on juveniles can be particularly damaging because their minds and bodies are still developing, putting them at greater risk of psychological harm and leading to depression and other mental health problems. In 2012, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry urged that the practice end. “There is plenty of research showing that solitary causes far more harm to kids than to their adult counterparts,” said Dr. Louis Kraus, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. A bill introduced in the Senate by Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) would prohibit almost all solitary confinement of juveniles in the federal system. As many as 17,000 youths are held in isolation in juvenile jails nationwide, the Justice Department says, most for punishment for a rule violation or because they are on suicide watch.