Ending Solitary Confinement for Youth

Just one week after celebrating MLK Day, we as a country celebrated some tremendous social justice victories. From the momentous decision by the Supreme Court to open up the possibility of parole for prisoners who were given life sentences as youths to Barack Obama’s powerful op-ed and the elimination of solitary confinement for youth, we’re seeing real progress.

When it comes to solitary confinement in the United States, the numbers are staggering. There are nearly 100,000 people held in solitary confinement. Think about that. Imagine every single undergraduate student enrolled at Penn State University and Ohio State University was put into solitary confinement. It still wouldn’t equal 100,000.

And the costs? Huge. We spend $80bn annually to incarcerate 2.2 million people. 2.2 million is roughly the population of Houston. If every incarcerated person were put into one single prison, that population would trail only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago in terms of total population. And the biased system has practically decimated neighborhoods and devastated too many families, especially black and brown ones.

It’s clear that change is needed and that these historic acts are only steps toward achieving that change—there is more to be done.

In his op-ed, President Obama tells the story of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old who was incarcerated for stealing a backpack. He served nearly two years in solitary confinement—without trial. Upon his release, the trauma of spending 23 hours per day alone got the better of him. His life was a struggle and he never recovered. At 22, he killed himself. His story is sadly all too common amongst the incarcerated, especially the incarcerated youth. We need system change to prevent another tragic loss of life like Kalief’s. Every young person needs the opportunity to fulfill his or her potential.

Tell us how you feel about President Obama’s decision to curtail solitary confinement and the Supreme Court’s decision to give youth a second chance. What are the next steps we can take together?