Obama Ends Solitary for Juveniles in Federal Prisons

Here is President Obama's op-ed in today's Washington Post explaining why he has ordered the end of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.

Here is the Justice Department report on the effects of solitary confinement -- Obama says he adopted its recommendations. The report has 50 guiding principles. Obama writes:

The Justice Department has completed its review, and I am adopting its recommendations to reform the federal prison system. These include banning solitary confinement for juveniles and as a response to low-level infractions, expanding treatment for the mentally ill and increasing the amount of time inmates in solitary can spend outside of their cells. These steps will affect some 10,000 federal prisoners held in solitary confinement and hopefully serve as a model for state and local corrections systems. And I will direct all relevant federal agencies to review these principles and report back to me with a plan to address their use of solitary confinement.


From the report summary:

After extensive study, we have concluded that 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. But as a matter of policy, we believe strongly this practice should be used rarely, applied fairly, and subjected to reasonable constraints.

This Report includes a series of “Guiding Principles” that we believe should guide plans for limiting the use of restrictive housing across the American criminal justice system, as well as specific policy changes that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (the Bureau) and other Department components could undertake to implement these principles.

Mentally ill inmates will gradually be moved to secure mental health facilities.

There's even a section on pretrial detainees in BOP contract facilities like local jails.

The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) is responsible for the housing and transportation of federal pre-trial detainees. USMS houses detainees in several types of facilities, including private detention facilities and state, county, and local jails. Although detainees remain in USMS custody on average for less than 100 days, USMS nonetheless has several tools to limit the use of restrictive housing during that time. The Report recommends that USMS:

Revise the detention standards that USMS applies to private contract facilities, to incorporate the restrictive housing policies discussed in this Report.[pp. 70-71 (b); 117-18 (p)]

Require that the state, county, and local jails that house USMS detainees provide DOJ with certain data on restrictive housing placements. [pp. 70-71 (b); 117-18 (p)]

Maybe the average is less than 100 days, but in large, multi-defendant drug cases, particularly those involving wiretaps or extensive electronic surveillance, pretrial detention can last 3 or 4 years. There are few programs and very little treatment options in most county jails.

I'd like to see less pretrial detention and more reforms for these as-yet unconvicted detainees, but that doesn't detract from Obama's significant and welcome new policy today on restricting the use of solitary confinement, particularly for juveniles. Obama commissioned the report and then acted on it. Good for him...and more importantly, for us. As he says in his op-ed:

How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.

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  • Display: Sort:
    This is welcome, welcome news (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by sj on Tue Jan 26, 2016 at 12:43:20 PM EST
    Because his pardon rate has been so low I never saw this coming, but this is wonderful. Hopefully next up would be prisons for profit.

    On his editorial, WP has this link to a column by George Will also advocating against solitary confinement. If you can ignore his sniping he also makes some good points.

    Now I'm off to read the summary of the Justice Department report.

    Way to go El Presidente! (none / 0) (#2)
    by kdog on Tue Jan 26, 2016 at 01:27:28 PM EST
    Keep the humane criminal justice reform hits coming...and pardons.  More pardons, more pardons, more pardons.

    It makes quite the legacy, the president who turned the tide on criminal justice after a 50 year inhumane flood.

    "...end solitary confinement (none / 0) (#3)
    by KeysDan on Tue Jan 26, 2016 at 02:36:36 PM EST
    for juveniles."  I think it brings it home more instructively and dramatically if it reads: "...end solitary confinement for children."   Generally, juvenile means not old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts---in the federal system and most states the age threshold is 18.

    I Am Curious... (none / 0) (#4)
    by ScottW714 on Wed Jan 27, 2016 at 09:25:18 AM EST
    ...what sort of crime would land a kid in Federal Prison rather than state ?

    For some reason I always thought kid/juvenile cases were handled locally, I never knew there were kids in Federal Prisons.

    Or are these juveniles tried as adults ?


    While it is true that there is a federal juvenile (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Peter G on Wed Jan 27, 2016 at 01:00:59 PM EST
    delinquency process for federal crimes committed by someone who has not turned 18, to prosecute any case under that provision -- other than a case predicated on the special territorial jurisdiction (such on Native reservation lands) -- the feds must certify to the federal court that the local juvenile court authorities are not equipped to handle the case.

    Amy crime (none / 0) (#5)
    by jbindc on Wed Jan 27, 2016 at 09:33:36 AM EST
    (That has prison time obviously) that takes place on federal property or reservation land, first starters.

    More (none / 0) (#6)
    by jbindc on Wed Jan 27, 2016 at 09:38:53 AM EST
    Historically, the federal juvenile population has consisted predominately of Native American males with an extensive history of drug and/or alcohol use/abuse, and violent behavior. These juveniles tend to be older in age, generally between 17 to 20 years of age, and are typically sentenced for sex-related offenses.

    In fact, the Federal Government has unique jurisdiction over crimes in Indian Country and the most serious crimes committed on reservations tend to be prosecuted in federal court. As a result, most federal juveniles are Native American. Typically, federal juvenile offenders have committed violent offenses and have a history of responding to interventions and preventive measures in the community unfavorably. As a last resort, they are sentenced by the federal courts to the custody of the Bureau (BOP).


    Some of my Aspen friends (none / 0) (#7)
    by fishcamp on Wed Jan 27, 2016 at 10:22:36 AM EST
    Did time at the federal lockup near Denver, Englewood I think it is.  The many Native Americans inside are allowed to have their traditional sweat rooms, since it is part of their religion.   A couple of my friends tried it, but couldn't stand the smell.

    Question: (none / 0) (#8)
    by jondee on Wed Jan 27, 2016 at 11:14:52 AM EST
    How many cops over the years do you suppose have been murdered by guys whose experience of incarceration was so horrendous and soul-crushing that they were willing to do ANYTHING, no matter how seemingly psychotic or desperate, to avoid go back to prison?

    Dostoyevski, in his book The House of the Dead, talks about prisoners he knew who committed murder to forstall even for a few days a sentence of solitary confinement or corporeal punishment..


    safety (none / 0) (#14)
    by thomas rogan on Wed Jan 27, 2016 at 08:17:37 PM EST
    Given the gangs and physical/sexual abuse which fill federal maxi prisons, I'd probably feel safer being in solitary as much as possible for my own protection.  

    Its the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood (none / 0) (#9)
    by MileHi Hawkeye on Wed Jan 27, 2016 at 11:54:12 AM EST
    but the physical (and mailing) address is Littleton. Off 285 and Kipling.

    Am I Right... (none / 0) (#10)
    by ScottW714 on Wed Jan 27, 2016 at 12:12:39 PM EST
    ...in that there is no Federal early release ?

    Just seems pretty unfair that NA are processed through a different system than most people, especially juveniles, when the rest of the population gets significant reduction for good behavior.


    Native Americans (none / 0) (#11)
    by jbindc on Wed Jan 27, 2016 at 12:44:36 PM EST
    Are processed for serious crimes through the federal government (this is from Wiki, so take it FWIW.

    Tribal courts take care of cases with sentences of three years or less.  The DOJ comes in when it'starts a serious crime, with emphasis on domestic violence and sexual assault, which are huge problems on resetvations. So these aren't kids who are in there for speeding, having a joint in their pocket, or stealing a skateboard.


    Early release from federal prison (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by jbindc on Wed Jan 27, 2016 at 12:48:12 PM EST