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Obama Bans Solitary Confinement for Juveniles

  • VOA News

FILE - El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma, July 16, 2015.

FILE - El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma, July 16, 2015.

President Barack Obama has adopted reforms to the federal prison system that include banning solitary confinement for juvenile prisoners and limiting when it can be used for adults.

In an opinion piece posted late Monday by The Washington Post, Obama said there are as many as 100,000 people in solitary confinement in the U.S. and that the practice brings potential "devastating, lasting psychological consequences."

"The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance," he said. "Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society."

Federal prisoners

There are nearly 200,000 federal prisoners, and Obama said eliminating solitary confinement for juveniles and those who commit low-level offenses while incarcerated will affect 10,000 people.

Few of those affected will actually be juveniles according to data from the Bureau of Prisons that lists only 26 prisoners under the age of 18.

The president is adopting recommendations from a report the Justice Department prepared after he ordered a review of solitary confinement in July.

FILE - U.S. President Barack Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, speaks during his visit to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside Oklahoma City, July 16, 2015.

FILE - U.S. President Barack Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, speaks during his visit to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside Oklahoma City, July 16, 2015.

"There are occasions when correctional officials have no choice but to segregate inmates from the general population, typically when it is the only way to ensure the safety of inmates, staff and the public," the DOJ report said. "But as a matter of policy, we believe strongly this practice should be used rarely, applied fairly, and subjected to reasonable constraints."

It calls for keeping inmates in the "least restrictive setting necessary" to ensure safety, developing a clear plan for their return to less restrictive conditions, and for staff to be able to clearly explain the reason a prisoner is being placed in solitary confinement.

Restrictive housing

The report also calls for drastically reducing the amount of time prisoners are placed in restrictive housing, including cutting the maximum penalty for a serious first-time offense from one year to two months.

Obama also urged Congress to pass legislation to reform the criminal justice system to make it "smarter, fairer, less expensive and more effective."

He wrote there are 2.2 million people in federal and state prisons and local jails at a cost of $80 billion, and that many serve sentences that are unnecessarily long.

"We believe that when people make mistakes, they deserve an opportunity to remake their lives," Obama said about Americans.

WATCH: Related video, President Obama's comments on criminal justice reform

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