Law Professor Tamar Birckhead on the cruel punishment we inflict on our incarcerated youth.
“Being in isolation to me felt like I was on an island all alone[,] dying a slow death from the inside out.”
—Letter from Kyle B. (pseudonym), from California to Human Rights Watch, May 3, 2012
In small jail cells across the United States, children—some as young as thirteen—are locked up with minimal human contact for days, weeks and months at a time. Some cells have a window, letting in a bit of natural light. Occasionally they are able to yell out to other juveniles in nearby cells, and they may even be given a book or The Bible to read. This is their reality for 22 to 24 hours each day, an existence of almost complete physical and social isolation.
The American Civil Liberties Union released the video below titled “Hard to Watch, Impossible to Ignore,” and launched a petition with the goal of collecting 50,000 signatures that calls on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to end the practice of holding juveniles in solitary confinement in federal prisons. A portion of the petition reads:
“Solitary can amount to torture, and the consequences can be devastating for children because they are still developing—that’s why we must stop this cruelty now.”
The group’s objective is to set a precedent for the states, where each year more than 90,000 youth are confined in prisons and jails, many of which keep their young inmates in solitary confinement.