Solitary Confinement for Younger Inmates
Posted by Scott Gorman - August 27, 2016

Rikers Island in New York has a reputation for violence and despair across the country. As the second largest jail in the United States that is home to anywhere from 11,000 to 12,500 inmates at any given time, Rikers is fraught with in-house fighting, suicides and punishments that deeply impact the inmates’ environment and lifestyles.

Teenage inmates at Rikers are particularly affected by punishment tactics used when they misbehave or cause problems. One method of penalizing an inmate is solitary confinement, in which the person is removed from the rest of the group and left alone with no human contact for extended periods of time. At Rikers, juvenile inmates may be sentenced to a period of solitary confinement for minor infractions, such as talking back to guards, roughhousing or playing and ignoring an order.

Experts agree that spending time in solitary confinement can have a negative impact on a young person’s mental health. Too much time alone is not necessarily a good thing, and even when used to teach someone a lesson, the method may be too harsh. In some cases, solitary confinement periods for younger inmates lasted up to 23 hours a day for 90 days. In more severe cases, inmates could be locked in a single cell for one to two years of solitary confinement.

The Process of Elimination

Last year, the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan issued a critical report detailing the treatment of younger inmates housed at Rikers. The report noted the “deep-seated culture of violence” that permeates the jail and labeled the use of solitary confinement for teenage inmates as “excessive and inappropriate.” According to the research conducted, more than 40 percent of inmates had been victims of forceful handling by the guards, and in more than 450 cases, the inmates required medical care.

Additionally, the US Attorney’s report touched on the use of solitary confinement as a penalty, citing statistics that show how detrimental prolonged confinement is to a young person’s mental well-being. Although some prisons and corrections officers have been trying to justify use of solitary confinement as necessary to make prisoners behave, the report has sparked significant change in Rikers.

The Corrections Department has begun the process of eliminating all use of solitary confinement for young inmates. This will take some time, and the projected date of full elimination at Rikers is sometime in 2016. According to reports, confinement for 16- and 17–year-old inmates is no longer allowed, and inmates 18 and older cannot be in solitary confinement for more than a month.

There has always been some kind of disconnect between rehabilitating and penalizing younger offenders, and it can be hard to determine which methods will be more effective in preventing criminal behavior in the future and punishing present acts. Hopefully, the elimination of solitary confinement in Rikers will spark change across the country for younger inmates.

The Gorman Law Firm is prepared to assist individuals who have been charged with criminal activity as a young adult. For more information regarding rehabilitation options and your rights under the law, contact a Morristown juvenile attorney at The Gorman Law Firm today.

Published in Categories: Juvenile Defense