U.S. President Barack Obama announced a ban Monday on the practice of holding juveniles in solitary confinement in federal prisons, saying that it could have “devastating, lasting psychological consequences.” In a Washington Post op-ed outlining the move, Obama said that the reforms would affect approximately 10,000 federal prisoners held in solitary confinement.
“The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance,” Obama wrote in the Post op-ed published late Monday. “Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society. Imagine having served your time and then being unable to hand change over to a customer or look your wife in the eye or hug your children.”
The reforms come just months after Obama, as part of a broader push to overhaul the country’s criminal justice system, ordered the Justice Department to study how solitary confinement was being used by the Federal Bureau of Prison.
In addition to recommending an end to solitary confinement of juveniles, the report — released Monday — also called for limiting solitary confinement for prisoners with mental illness and avoiding the practice as a tool to segregate prisoners who face threats from fellow inmates. These recommendations were also adopted by the president.
Over the past year, as his time in office winds down, Obama has stepped up efforts to tackle the hot-button issues of race and criminal justice. He recently commuted the sentences of dozens of mostly nonviolent offenders and is also pushing for a broader, bipartisan overhaul of sentencing rules in Congress later this year.
“Reforming solitary confinement is just one part of a broader bipartisan push for criminal justice reform. Every year, we spend $80 billion to keep 2.2 million people incarcerated. Many criminals belong behind bars. But too many others, especially nonviolent drug offenders, are serving unnecessarily long sentences,” Obama wrote, in the op-ed. “That’s why members of Congress in both parties are pushing for change. ... And I hope they will send me legislation as soon as possible that makes our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, less expensive and more effective.”