Reform Needed On Kids In Solitary Confinement, UF Panel Agrees

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A panel discusses solitary confinement for juveniles Wednesday in the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. The five experts in the justice field shared their opinions on the practice and the impacts on society. (Cara Glass/WUFT News)

The UF Levin College of Law hosted a conversation about the solitary confinement of juveniles on Wednesday.

The event consisted of a panel of five experts in the justice field. Each shared their views on confining juveniles and discussed the negative impacts the “quick fix” can have on society.

Florida is one of many U.S. states that does not have a minimum age for indictment, which means that, theoretically, a 5-year-old could be placed in an adult prison.

Conditions typically aren’t safe for a child in such spaces, so once admitted, he or she is placed in solitary confinement, said Paolo Annino, supervising attorney at the Public Interest Law Center at Florida State University.

Dolores Canales, co-director of California Families Against Solitary Confinement, said conditions vary depending on the circumstance and the facility, but all require the child to be left in complete solitude. Most of the holding rooms have cement walls, no windows and a bed, sometimes without a mattress.

“Solitary confinement is an inhumane experience,” said Marsha Levick, deputy director of the Juvenile Law Center in Pennsylvania. “It’s state-sanctioned child abuse.”

The child has no access to programs or schooling, as most juveniles do at centers,said Jessica Feireman, supervising attorney for the Juvenile Law Center. And they are not allowed to have any physical or verbal interaction for weeks, months or even years at a time.

If a child is mentally ill when admitted into the prison, he or she is even more likely to end up in solitary confinement, Annino said. Instead of introducing the child to a counselor, the child is often locked up for an “easy solution.”

When the individual is denied communication, the illness is ultimately aggravated and made worse, he said.

Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for ACLU’s National Prison Project, said that while in confinement, many children resort to self-harm or suicide. A child in isolation is seven times more likely to take his or her life and usually continues battling mental illness years after confinement.

Because the adolescence period is pivotal for development, solitude prevents a successful transition from confinement to the outside world, she added.

Though many people do not support torturing children,few people actually know about juvenile solitary confinement, Annino said. The lack of data and transparency throughout the system leaves the public ignorant to the true conditions.

With President Obama being the first president to visit a federal prison and speak out on such conditions, the issue of solitary confinement has started to make its way to the surface of discussion.

“Solitary confinement has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior,” Obama wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed.

States like Nebraska, Texas, Idaho and Mississippi have all started to take reformative action, but Florida seems to be “behind the curve,” Fetig said. Florida, along with other states, might need to be sued to jumpstart reform and new thinking.

All the experts agreed that the best way for reform is to learn about the system and become aware of the truth behind solitary confinement.

“It’s easy to get stuck and assume the world we encounter is the world it should be,” Levick said, “but we can’t accept circumstances as we find them.”

About Cara Glass

Cara is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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