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Suicidal, in Solitary, and 17

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February 17, 2010

Imagine being so desperate to kill yourself that you bite through your wrist in an attempt to puncture a vein. Now imagine trying to do this twice.

That was the state of “Robert Doe,” a mentally ill teen who was 15 when he was moved from the state’s juvenile facility to Montana State Prison (MSP). Despite his young age and long, well-documented history of severe physical and emotional abuse and neglect, he was placed with MSP’s general population, then subsequently placed in solitary confinement for nearly a year.

In the two years he’s been at MSP, Robert has been Tasered, pepper-sprayed, and stripped naked in front of other inmates. He’s allowed outside his cell for only five or six hours each week, and is forbidden phone calls or visits with his family. His fellow inmates were so alarmed by his treatment that they contacted the ACLU of Montana for help on his behalf. In December, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state and the Department of Corrections over Robert’s illegal, inhumane and cruel treatment.

Today, the ACLU of Montana and the ACLU’s Human Rights Program sent a letter to Manfred Nowack, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment asking him to intervene on Robert’s behalf. The letter points out that Robert’s treatment at MSP violates the United States’ obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the U.N. Convention on Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibit torture and all other forms of inhumane treatment and call for the rehabilitation of child offenders.

We ask that the U.N. Special Rapporteur, as a matter of urgency, review Robert’s case, urge Montana state officials to treat Robert in a manner consistent with these international human rights laws, and consistent with these laws, ensure that Robert is removed from solitary, placed in a juvenile detention facility and afforded proper mental health treatment.