President Obama announced on Monday that he is banning the use of solitary confinement for juveniles and low-level offenders in federal prisons.
In a Washington Post editorial that will be published Tuesday, Obama outlined a series of executive actions he is taking at the recommendation of the US Justice Department.
The recommendations include the banning of solitary confinement for juveniles and prisoners who commit “low-level infractions,” as well as an increase in the amount of time prisoners in solitary confinement can spend outside.
“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 editorial.
Obama mentioned a host of “devastating, lasting psychological consequences” that stem from solitary confinement, such as depression, the potential for violent behaviour and the increased likelihood of committing suicide.
He also invoked Kalief Browder, the New York man who as a teenager spent three years in prison — much of them in solitary confinement — for being accused of stealing a backpack. Browder was released from prison in 2013, and committed suicide in June at age 22.
After Browder was released, Obama wrote, “life was a constant struggle to recover from the trauma of being locked up alone for 23 hours a day.”
Obama has made criminal justice reform a priority as he aims to cement his presidential legacy. In July, Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison.
“Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes for months or even years at a time?” Obama said in a speech at the NAACP convention in July. “That is not going to make us safer. That’s not going to make us stronger. And if those individuals are ultimately released, how are they ever going to adapt? It’s not smart.”
As many as 100,000 prisoners are being held in solitary confinement at any given time, according to the Washington Post. Obama’s reforms are expected to affect about 10,000 inmates.
Some state-level studies have found that prisoners held in solitary confinement are more likely to commit crimes after being released than prisoners kept in less restrictive housing.
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