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A Study of The Psychological Impact of Individual Confinement in Young Inmates

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Studies show that 2/3 of America’s juvenile inmates are suffering from a mental illness. They also show that only 15 days in solitary confinement can cause severe and irreversible psychological damage. Most teenagers that are put into solitary confinement may stay in solitary for weeks to years at a time. Youth Detention Center, also known as Juvenile hall, is a secure facility for young juveniles who have committed crimes ranging from robberies to drug possession. Within this system in the American justice system, a way to maintain the peace in the prisons is through solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is the isolation of prisoners in closed cells for 22 hours a day with no human contact. This is also referred to as prison segregation. Many who undergo solitary confinement often are placed there because of they are in need of protection, have unfavored political beliefs, are gay or transgender, or have an untreated mental disorder. These prisoners can be held in these circumstances for days, weeks, or even years. Humans are required to have contact with other humans to grow and develop appropriately. By placing teenagers in this environment, the United States criminal justice systems goes against itself. These children are not properly being rehabilitated to be prepared to enter the real world as efficient and productive members of society. Solitary confinement for teenagers is a cruel and unnecessary punishment that goes against basic human necessities and may cause extreme psychological disorders.

Teenagers in solitary confinement is a cruel form of punishment. Solitary confinement was a way to segregate adult prisoners from others. Teenagers, who are not seen as adults, are being put into solitary confinement. In fact, “roughly 100,000 juveniles have been held in adult jails and prisons” (Chuck 1). Society looks at teenagers as very different from adults so much that we hold them at different separate standards. Their minds and privileges are different and yet, when committed a crime, they are viewed as exactly the same. Therefore, solitary confinement is an unnecessary punishment for teenagers because they are being placed in a form of punishment that was made of adults. Solitary confinement is also mainly used as protection to the inmate because of aspects of their personality. By isolating them, there is an installment of hopelessness. The system is teaching the inmates that by being who they are is something to be punished for. Solitary confinement can also lead to many mental disorders that can be created in the process of being placed there or it can be developed by the trauma of the event. Being able to configure these types of disorders constitutes for cruel and unusual punishment. The United States should not be going against the rehabilitation of teenagers but rather promote the health and continuation of them.

Regardless of sex, religion, nationality, race, or language, all humans have basic necessities. Human contact is a necessity that goes with normal human growth and solitary confinement is restricting the juvenile’s contact with others. In a report by American Civil Liberties Union, they analyzed that “because young people are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow” (Devorsky 1). By isolating the teenagers from the rest of the world for 22 hours a day, with no human contact at all, they are now not receiving the medical, psychological, developmental, and social needs of these teenagers. Teenagers are now being forced to have no real life experience with other members of society. They do not have access to be a part of the social culture that is around them.

Nancy Shute held an interview with a neuroscientist named John Cacioppo who further explain that “Just like hunger and thirst and pain, loneliness signals something important for the survival of your genes—the need for connection to other individuals” (1). As humans, juveniles are in need of social interaction. They need to have that sense of belonging and keep up with relations in order to not fall into a state of depression and helplessness. By simply receiving a connection with another human, it makes it harder for the juvenile to pull themselves away from the crowd. Permitting the contact and connection with others helps decrease feelings to isolation. Solitary confinement keeps walls between inmates and the world for years at a time. The inmates are not being given the chance to grow or given the opportunities to do so, therefore not receiving rehabilitation will help no one in the long run.

Teenagers can gain or worsen mental disorders if placed in solitary confinement. These inmates are being forced locked in a room for majority of the day with the only human contact given is when the officer slides their meals in. An advocacy group called Architects, Designers, and Planners for Social Responsibility states that “many if not most people in solitary confinement suffered from a mental illness prior to their placement in solitary” (US: Teens in Solitary Confinement 1). During solitary confinement, many of the inmates do not receive the minimal required care of being a teenager. By depriving those of this care, it can deteriorate the minds of these teenagers even further which leads to the intensification of their mental illnesses. However, the few that go into solitary confinement without a mental disorder tend to come out having adopted one.

Teenagers are in such a vulnerable state already and by placing them in a cell with hours of nothing but their own thoughts, they will soon one of not many more. Many gain anxiety, depression, anger, insomnia, irrational thoughts, paranoia, and at worst, thinking or practicing self-harm. This self-harm in the inmates do increase to attempts of suicide. Laura Dimon writes about a study where “they noted that among suicides in juvenile facilities, half of the victims were in isolation at the time they took their own lives” (1). As stated previously, some inmates are placed into this solitary because of their mental disorders and sometimes even for suicide watch. Solitary confinement is meant to be a place of “protection”, and yet most of the suicides that was committed were while they were under this watch. If adults who undergo solitary confinement can gain mental disorders, the impact it has on youth and teenagers is more than just large. Gaining a mental disorder can get in the way of their everyday lives. The disorder can affect the way that the inmate thinks, feels, and behaves. They can have life-long lasting effects that can make it difficult for inmates to go on with their lives.

Some of society agrees with solitary confinement as a form of punishment for teenagers. One argument is that by separating these prisoners from society, it is an effective way to keep the peace within the prison. Gary DeLands, the director of jail operations in Utah, explains that if the officers know that an inmate can cause danger to any other inmate or staff, it is essential for the officer to take reasonable measures. He goes on to argue that solitary confinement is an accepted way to keep everyone in the prison safe (1). However, by doing this, the system is not allowing the inmate to fully grow to become a productive and rehabilitated member of society. The juvenile is no longer be able to gain real life experience with other humans in society with him. Solitary confinement may temporarily pause the violence or the potential for violence, but a few months of isolation is not going to change an out of control, dangerous juvenile into a respectful and manageable prisoner. A more effective way to deal with the violence and protection of inmates would be to provide inmates with other inmates who can be relatable or offer support for their rehabilitation. Those that are gay or transgender or have specific beliefs in religion or politics can now have human contact with people who are going to offer comfort. This will quicken the rehabilitation of inmates without stripping away their stable minds.

Teenagers who commit crimes should be placed in juvenile hall to be rehabilitated and therefore grow as a person to become a greater part of society again. However, by putting them into a small room for 22 hours a day without little to no human contact will defeat all of their original purposes. These teenagers who are not being looked at as adults should not be treated as adults when they commit a crime. Solitary confinement is a method of punishment that is unnecessary for teenagers because it will just farther cause mental disorders by the inmates being denied their basic human rights. These teenagers are our children. They are our futures and we should be lending them a helping hand instead of shutting them in.

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