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Putting Kids in Solitary Confinement: “A National Disgrace”

April 2, 2013

The Viatorian Community actively participates with the Washington-based National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), in working together to opposeimages[1] all forms of U.S.-sponsored torture.

Recently, NCRAT had its op-ed on the use of putting teenage offenders in solitary confinement, posted on the Huffington Post. The letter, written by Executive Director Richard Killmer, is reprinted here, with NCRAT’s permission.


Putting   Kids in Solitary Confinement: A Cruel and Unwise Decision
By Rev.   Richard L. Killmer
Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Veteran news anchor Ted   Koppel ended his piece   on kids locked away in solitary confinement on Rock Center with Brian   Williams this past Friday by describing the practice as a “national   disgrace.”

The religious community   shares in Koppel’s sentiment. People of faith are particularly concerned   about youth in solitary confinement in youth facilities and adult prisons. As   a Presbyterian minister and as a grandfather, I believe the solitary   confinement of youth is both wrong and counterproductive. In many states,   children under 18 years old and “youthful offenders” under 24 are   held in solitary confinement in adult prisons. The long-term psychological   and developmental impacts of solitary confinement upon children are   particularly devastating, resulting in hallucinations, paranoia, and   increased rates of self-mutilation and suicide.

Citing CIA studies into the   impact of prolonged solitary confinement, psychologist Dr. Stuart Grassian   described the results of solitary as “permanent   impairment.” If indeed 95 percent of the youth currently held in   such debilitating conditions of isolation in U.S. prisons and jails will at   some point return home to our communities, we all have a shared stake in   their condition.

I believe that all human   beings have been given inherent dignity and worth. Solitary confinement   degrades those gifts. My faith teaches that human beings thrive in community   and consequently, denying human beings the community they need is   unacceptable.

The problem of solitary confinement   extends beyond youth in the system. The United States has become a world   leader in incarceration and in holding prisoners in prolonged solitary   confinement. With just five percent of the world’s population, the United   States holds 25 percent of the world’s prison population and the vast   majority of all prisoners held in long-term solitary confinement. According   to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 80,000 people in the U.S. criminal   justice system are held in some form of isolation.

For the many faith   traditions that comprise the National   Religious Campaign Against Torture, all recognize the inherent dignity of   each human being, and the particular importance of protecting the health and   growth of children. We believe that prolonged solitary confinement denies the   essential human need for community and profoundly disrupts the developmental   progress of youth, and must be brought to an end.

There is a story in the   Book of Isaiah in which the prophet tells King Hezekiah that his children   will be taken into exile in Assyria. The king responds by saying, “At   least there will be peace in my day.” Like King Hezekiah, short-sighted   decisions may give a sense of security now by hiding the reality and the   long-term impacts of placing young people in solitary confinement. By placing   young people in solitary who will be released having experienced the horrors   of such conditions, our society is failing our young people and the   communities to which they will one day return.

There is good news: Many   states throughout the United States are awakening to the need for the   practice of placing youth in solitary confinement to end. A number of bills   have been introduced in states including Florida, California, Montana and   Texas to limit or eliminate the use of juvenile solitary confinement.   Campaigns are growing around the country to bring this abusive practice to an   end.

In Florida, a state that   holds more young people under age 18 in adult state prisons than any other   state, a bill (SB 812) has been introduced which includes provisions that   strictly limit the use of solitary confinement of both children under 18   years old and youthful offenders under 24. Currently, there is no prohibition   in state law or Florida Department of Corrections policy or regulation   against holding young people in solitary confinement in Florida prisons and   jails. The   National Religious Campaign Against Torture is working hard to support   this bill as well as similar ones in California and other states.

I want a future community   for my grandchildren which is marked by health and wholeness. By working to   end the practice of the solitary confinement of youth, I hope to contribute   to that kind of community.