Today’s edition of the Washington Post contains an op-ed by President Obama outlining a series of executive actions on the use of solitary confinement in American federal prisons. Currently around 100,000 inmates are serving time in solitary confinement. The Justice Department’s research has found a high incidence of depression, withdrawal, exacerbated mental illness symptoms and the potential for suicide in the population of inmates who have been subject to long periods of isolation without human contact.
On Monday Obama issued a ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in the federal prison system. The president argues that this punishment is employed far too often and at too great a risk to psychologically damaging juvenile inmates.
Solitary confinement may no longer be used for low-level non-violent infractions. Inmates that remain in solitary will have more mental health treatment and more time outside of their cells.
On the recommendation of the Justice Department, Obama maintains that solitary confinement will continue to be employed as a “last resort” in situations where a prisoner must be isolated as protection from other inmates, or to protect the safety of inmates and staff.
The president writes that he hopes these reform in federal prisons will serve as a model at the state and local level.