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The Damage Inflicted by Putting Kids in Isolation, SD’s Juvenile Justice Issues Deserve Candidates’ Attention…and More

October 12th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


A new report by the Human Rights Watch and the ACLU reinforces the need for effective alternatives to the all-too-common use of solitary confinement in the youth detention setting. The report surveys over 125 kids in 19 states, including California, who have spent time in isolation, and provides first-hand accounts of the devastating effects of solitary confinement on developing youth. Here’s a clip from the Human Rights Watch article:

Because young people are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow, the groups found. Solitary confinement can exacerbate short- and long-term mental health problems or make it more likely that such problems will develop. Young people in solitary confinement are routinely denied access to treatment, services, and programming required to meet their medical, psychological, developmental, social, and rehabilitative needs.

The New York City Department of Corrections, for example, reported that in fiscal year 2012, which ended in June, more than 14 percent of all adolescents were held in at least one period of solitary confinement while detained. The average length of time young people spent in solitary confinement at Rikers Island was 43 days. More than 48 percent of adolescents at Rikers have diagnosed mental health problems.


The solitary confinement of young people under age 18 is itself a serious human rights violation and can constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU said. Conditions that compound the harm of solitary confinement, such as denial of educational programming, exercise, or family visits, often constitute independent, serious human rights violations.

A number of corrections officials have begun to recognize and speak against the use of solitary confinement, saying that it is costly, ineffective, and harmful.

There are alternative ways to address the problems – whether disciplinary, administrative, protective, or medical – that officials typically cite to justify using solitary confinement, while taking into account the rights and special needs of adolescents, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU said. Youth could be housed in specialized facilities organized to encourage positive behavior. And punishment should be proportional to the infraction, using any short-term isolation as a rare exception.

Here’s what some of the surveyed kids had to say about their time in isolation:

“In seg[regation] you either implode or explode; you lose touch with reality, hear voices, hallucinate and think for hours about killing yourself, others or both. The anger and hurt gets so intense that you suspect everyone and trust no one and when someone does something nice for you, you don’t understand it.” – “Douglas C.” Colorado, April 2012.

“I just felt I wanted to die, like there was no way out – I was stressed out. I hung up the first day. I took a sheet and tied it to my light and they came around … The officer when she was doing rounds found me. She was banging on the window – ‘Are you alive? Are you alive?’ I could hear her but I felt like I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe.” – “Luz M.,” New York, April 2012


As election day nears for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors’ open seat, neither of the two candidates have addressed the colossally important problems of youth gang violence and prescription drug abuse—in fact, these issues remain largely ignored by everyone, says San Diego CityBeat writer Dave Maass. Here’s how Dave’s story for CityBeat and the Crime Report opens:

California’s second largest county is coping with widespread gang violence and prescription drug abuse among youth. But as election day nears, juvenile justice remains a whisper in a monsoon of economic rhetoric.

According to statistics released this year by the San Diego Association of Governments, 38 percent of male juveniles arrestees— and 28 percent of female juvenile arrestees— reported gang affiliations. And last year, 37 percent of juveniles arrested acknowledged prescription drug abuse— the highest rate in four years—according to a county task force.

In the only race on any level with a direct influence over juvenile justice policy in this county of more than 3.1 million people, the challenges of dealing with troubled young people have indeed surfaced—but almost as an afterthought.

The two candidates for the five-member San Diego County Board of Supervisors have an opportunity to take the county in a new direction as they vie for the first open seat in 16 years. So far they’ve traded jabs on funding for after-school programs as part of a larger campaign quarrel over an alleged county “slush fund.”

But in general the juvenile justice problems which are preoccupying some parents and county officials barely get a close examination.

That may not be surprising in an election season that has hinged on jobs and the economy in local as well as national contests. Even in education-related races, the debate has focused squarely on financial mismanagement and labor unions, issues that put the welfare of troubled kids below the concerns of taxpayers.

We, too, wish our local and statewide candidates would focus more on juvenile justice issues which, thus far, don’t seem to be high up on the political talking points list.


A 17-year-old son of a NY law enforcement officer secretly recorded a “stop and frisk” encounter in which police officers called him a “mutt” and told him that they would “break his arm off.”

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf (who happens to live in Venice, CA) talks about how recording perceived wrong-doing can make a big difference and has the rest of the 17-year-old’s experience and its effect. Here’s a clip:

That’s how the politics of this issue will change.

What’s required is more secret recording. It’s very difficult to defend Stop and Frisk when the reality of how it’s administered is made public in a way the average person can understand. Technology is permitting the government to spy on us in unprecedented ways, but it can empower citizens too.

Any 17-year-old can record a Stop and Frisk encounter.

Any non-profit can teach people in affected areas how to inconspicuously record anytime they see one of these encounters.

Big Brother is being watched.

Posted in ACLU, Human rights, juvenile justice, National issues, racial justice, solitary | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1. jim hitchcock Says:

    Good for Conor. Emily Good would be proud of him.

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