Youth Solitary Confinement
Every day, in jails and prisons across the United States, young people under the age of 18 are held in solitary confinement. They spend 22 or more hours alone each day, usually in a small cell behind a solid steel door. They are completely isolated both physically and socially, often for days, weeks, or even months on end. Sometimes there is a window allowing natural light to enter or a view of the world outside cell walls. Sometimes it is possible to communicate by yelling to other inmates; voices are distorted, reverberating against concrete and metal. Occasionally, they get a book or a Bible, and if they are lucky, study materials. But inside this cramped space, few contours distinguish one hour, one day, one week, or one month from the next.
Isolating children can inflict serious psychological, physical, and developmental harm, resulting in persistent mental health problems or worse: suicide. These risks are magnified for children with disabilities or histories of trauma and abuse.
The ACLU is committed to abolishing the solitary confinement of children in juvenile and adult facilities. We are working in a number of states to promote legislation and policy reforms requiring that juvenile justice and correctional agencies employ a range of alternatives to manage and care for young people safely—without resorting to harmful physical and social isolation practices.