President Obama announced a ban on solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in the federal prison system, saying the practice is overused and has the potential for devastating psychological consequences, the Washington Post reports. In an op-ed in today’s editions of the Post, the president outlines a series of executive actions that also prohibit federal corrections officials from punishing prisoners who commit “low-level infractions” with solitary confinement. The new rules also call for expanding treatment for mentally ill prisoners. While the president's reforms apply to the roughly 10,000 federal inmates serving time in solitary confinement, there are only a handful of juvenile offenders placed in such housing each year.
Between September 2014 and September 2015, federal authorities were notified of just 13 juveniles who were put in solitary in its prisons, according to officials. The reforms come six months after Obama ordered the Justice Department to study how solitary confinement was being used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The move is another example of the extent to which Obama seems willing to tackle delicate questions of race and criminal justice as he closes out his presidency. Obama has been focused on trying to put in place programs to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society once they have left prison. “How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people?” the president wrote. “It doesn't make us safer. It's an affront to our common humanity.” At least a dozen states have taken steps in the past two years to curtail solitary confinement, either in response to lawsuits or through legislative and administrative changes. An increasing number of studies show a connection between isolating prisoners and higher rates of recidivism.