Florida houses more youth under 18 in state prisons than any other state; “Youth in Solitary Confinement Reduction Act” would restrict use of solitary confinement for these minors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 20th, 2013
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, 786-363-2737, media@aclufl.org

TALLAHASSEE – In response to a crisis of minors being placed in solitary confinement in Florida prisons, State Senator Audrey Gibson has filed the “Youth in Solitary Confinement Reduction Act” (SB 812). The bill seeks to reduce the dangerous impact that solitary confinement has on young persons, as uncovered in the October 2012 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch, “Growing Up Locked Down.”

The Youth in Solitary Confinement Reduction Act restricts the protective solitary confinement of both children under 18 years old and “youthful offenders,” to very strict and specific situations for which the restrictions of confinement must be “the least restrictive to maintain the safety of the youth prisoner and the institution.” It further limits the use of emergency confinement to 24 hours, disciplinary confinement to 72 hours, and requires mental health assessments and out-of-cell time to mitigate the psychologically damaging effects of solitary confinement.

“We are wasting taxpayer money on prison policies that permanently damage children’s state of mind and may ultimately do nothing to reduce crime,” stated Sen. Gibson. “It seems foolish to imagine that locking a child away alone in a cell for hours on end can do anything to improve their character or their behavior, especially given all the evidence of the harm this practice does, but that is exactly what our state is doing. I filed this bill to end this kind of treatment of young people in Florida so they have a real opportunity for rehabilitative success.”

The 2012 report by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch found that because young people are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow. The long term isolation of solitary confinement causes anguish, provokes serious mental and physical health problems, and works against rehabilitation for teenagers.

“Cutting young people off from the normal human interaction that they need for their development and rehabilitation is cruel, harmful and doesn’t make us any safer,” stated ACLU of Florida Staff Attorney Julie Ebenstein, who works on criminal justice reform. “Children are not simply miniature adults. We cannot have a criminal justice system that ignores their different needs if we expect them to grow into healthy members of society.”

Florida imprisons more youth under the age of 18 in adult prisons than any other state in the country. There is currently no prohibition in state law or in Florida Department of Corrections policies or regulations against holding these young people in solitary confinement in Florida prisons.

In an April 2012 interview for the report, Henry R. (pseudonym), who was held in solitary detention at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami-Dade County at age 16, described his experience this way:

“The only thing left to do is go crazy – just sit and talk to the walls. A lot of people in here go on [suicide watch]… Sometimes I go crazy and can’t even control my anger anymore… See, they say it’s to make you better, but really it didn’t change me, it just gave me a worser [sic] attitude. I feel like I am alone, like no one cares about me. Sometimes I feel like, why am I even living?”

The report called for a strict limit on all forms of isolation for young people, a move toward discipline that is proportional to the infraction, and bans on the costly and counterproductive use of corrections policies designed for adults on children. The Youth in Solitary Confinement Reduction Act would put these restrictions and other best practices for juveniles in place in all Florida Department of Corrections facilities as well as all local jails.

More information about the bill, including the bill text is available here:http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2013/0812

More information from “Growing Up Locked Down,” including a link to a PDF of the entire report, is available here: http://www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/growing-locked-down-youth-solitary-confinement-jails-and-prisons-across-united