Solitary confinement is a controversial and often misunderstood aspect of the criminal justice system. Rather than being a tool for discipline and security, it is widely recognized as an abuse of power that does not work as intended. Its effects on incarcerated people, particularly youth and the elderly, raise serious concerns.

The Pervasiveness of Putting Children in Solitary Confinement

The practice of placing children in solitary confinement is more widespread than many might imagine. While the specifics vary by jurisdiction, it is disturbingly common for young individuals to be subjected to this harsh form of isolation, often for reasons that would be considered excessive or inappropriate. Some key points to consider include:

  1. Disproportionate Use on Youth: Children and adolescents should be treated with special care within the criminal justice system due to their developmental stage. However, it is not uncommon for young people to be placed in solitary confinement, even for non-violent infractions or minor rule violations.
  2. Impact on Mental Health: Young incarcerated people are particularly vulnerable to the mental health consequences of solitary confinement. The developing brain is highly sensitive to social and environmental stimuli, making isolation even more damaging. The psychological trauma inflicted during these critical developmental years can have lifelong consequences.
  3. Legislative Changes: In recent years, there have been efforts to reform the use of solitary confinement for youth. Several U.S. states and other countries have passed legislation to limit or prohibit its use on minors, acknowledging the damaging impact it can have on their well-being.

Solitary Confinement and the Elderly

  1. Physical Health Risks: Elderly incarcerated people are particularly vulnerable to the physical toll of solitary confinement. Prolonged isolation can exacerbate age-related health issues, such as arthritis, hypertension, and heart disease. Lack of movement and exposure to natural light can lead to rapid physical deterioration.
  2. Cognitive Decline: Solitary confinement can also hasten cognitive decline in elderly incarcerated people. The absence of mental stimulation and social interaction can contribute to conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, making it challenging for them to function independently after release.
  3. Ethical Concerns: Subjecting elderly incarcerated people to solitary confinement raises ethical questions about humane treatment. It amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, especially given the unique vulnerabilities of this demographic.

Addressing the pervasive use of solitary confinement  is a crucial step in reforming the criminal justice system. Alternatives that prioritize rehabilitation and therapeutic intervention over punitive measures are being explored. These alternatives aim to address the root causes of behavioral issues in incarcerated youth and provide them with a chance for personal growth and positive change.