Carrie Johnson of NPR reports that this week, an unusual coalition of corrections officers and policy experts will come together in Washington, D.C., with one common goal in mind – to limit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles.
The campaign has enlisted some important figures to warn about the harms of isolation for young people, one of whom is Venida Browder, who lost her son to suicide after he was put in solitary confinement at Rikers Island in New York.
“Solitary confinement is what destroyed my son,” she said (NPR).
Browder’s son, Kalief, was in prison because he was accused of stealing a backpack, but refused to plead guilty because he maintained his innocence. This resulted in Kalief spending years in detention waiting for his trial.
“he was a child being locked up for 23 hours a day for nearly two years,” Browder said. “That’s enough to destroy a man’s mind, let alone a child’s.”
Browder says that her son tried to hang himself at Rikers, after which he got a beating from corrections officers as well as more time in solitary confinement. Eventually, the charges were dropped, and Kalief came home. He earned a GED and was taking classes at community college, but Browder says it was obvious that he was mentally struggling with what had occurred while in prison (NPR).
“The look on his face – physically he was here, but mentally he wasn’t,” she said. “And it was too many days like that. It just overpowered him.”
Kalief Browder committed suicide last year, and criminal justice researchers say that his story is common.
“Young people who are held in solitary confinement have the worst outcomes, and that includes being at very high risk of suicide,” said Marc Schindler of the nonprofit Justice Policy Institute (NPR).
Schindler is leading the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign that is convening in Washington this week, and is an attempt to end the use of isolation for juveniles. The coalition maintains that juveniles are especially vulnerable in isolated states because their brains are still developing. Too often, advocates say, facilities use solitary as a catchall – a place to house young people who won’t follow the rules or as a warehouse for kids with mental illness (NPR).
“I don’t want another mother to have to spend a lifetime sentence like I am,” Browder said. “I mourn every day” (NPR).
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