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Booker Introduces Legislation Banning Juvenile Solitary Confinement

August 5, 2015
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Each day, in jails and prisons across America, youth under the age of 18 are held in solitary confinement often for weeks or months at a time

 

Solitary confinement is “a violation of one’s human dignity”

 

Booker, Durbin, Paul, Lee, call on federal juvenile centers to cease this harmful practice

 

WASHINGTON, DCU.S. Sen. Cory Booker(D-NJ), today introduced the MERCY Act,  legislation which would prohibit the solitary confinement of juveniles tried in the federal system and held in pretrial facilities and juvenile detention facilities. He was joined by cosponsors Sens. Dick Durbin(D-IL), Rand Paul(R-KY), and Mike Lee(R-UT).

“Not only is solitary confinement cruel and demeaning, it’s a violation of one’s human dignity. When imposed on adolescents, it can cause serious long-term psychological and physical harm,” Sen. Booker said.  “The MERCY Act bans juvenile solitary confinement in the federal system and recognizes that this harmful practice is brutal and inhumane. If we truly want our criminal justice system to reflect our founding principles as a nation of liberty and justice for all, we must promote a more compassionate, common sense approach to rehabilitation that helps restore promise in our young people.”

“The mental health effects of even short periods of isolation – including depression and risk of suicide – are heightened in youth, which is why I have repeatedly called for an end to the use of solitary confinement for juveniles,” Sen. Durbin said, “I am glad to join Senators Booker, Paul and Lee in introducing this legislation and look forward to working with them as we consider how to fundamentally reform our approach to this controversial practice.”

 

The solitary confinement of young people is a serious and widespread problem in the United States. Each day, in jails and prisons across America, youth under the age of 18 are held in solitary confinement often for weeks or months at a time. In 2011 alone, more than 95,000 youth were held in prisons and jails, and a significant number were held in solitary confinement. In 2013, the Department of Justice found that 47 percent of juvenile detention centers locked youth in solitary confinement for more than four hours at a time, and some held youth for up to 23 hours a day with no human interaction.

 

When subjected to solitary confinement, adolescents are often denied access to treatment and programming to meet their psychological, developmental, and rehabilitative needs. Because youths are still developing, solitary confinement often seriously harms their mental and physical health, as well as their development.

 

The Maintaining dignity and Eliminating unnecessary Restrictive Confinement of Youths Act of 2015 (MERCY Act) would prohibit the use of room confinement of youth, otherwise known as solitary confinement, of federally adjudicated juvniles   unless it is a temporary response to a serious risk of harm to the juvenile or to others. The MERCY Act defines room confinement as the placement of a juvenile alone in any cell, room, or other area for any reason. The bill stipulates that a juvenile can only be held in room confinement for the minimum time period necessary to address the risk and for no longer than a certain period of time.

 

Specifically, the MERCY Act:

 

·         Bans Juvenile Solitary Confinement. The MERCY Act bans the use of “room confinement” in juvenile facilities, except as a temporary response to a behavioral issue that poses serious and immediate risk to any individual.

·         Requires Use of Least Restrictive Techniques. The bill ensures that before a juvenile is placed in room confinement, the staff member must use less restrictive techniques, including de-escalation techniques or discussions with a qualified mental health professional.

·         Encourages Transparency. The bill mandates that the juvenile be informed of why the room confinement placement occurred and that release will occur upon regaining self-control or after a certain period of time in solitary confinement.

·         Places Time Limits on Usage of Confinement. The Mercy Act limits solitary confinement on juveniles that pose a risk of harming others to no more than 3 hours and to juveniles who pose a risk of harm to themselves to no more than half an hour. It requires juveniles be removed from room confinement once the risk of harm subsides.

 

·         Requires Post-Confinement Services. After the maximum periods of confinement expires, the bill mandates that juveniles be transferred to a facility where services can be provided.