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Saturday 19th of October 2019

Press Room

Obama bans solitary confinement of juveniles detained in federal facilities

Wednesday 10th of February 2016 | North America, United States
Juvenile Justice in the world

On Tuesday 25th of January, the Washington Post released an op-ed by Barack Obama in which the President of the United States declared that “we must rethink solitary confinement.” In the op-ed, President Obama highlighted that, according to research, solitary confinement “has the potential to lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences”. He announced that he was determined to ban solitary confinement for juvenile offenders detained in federal facilities, adding that it was “increasingly overused” in the United States, with some “heartbreaking results”.


According to the White House, there are as many as 100,000 people held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, among them, juveniles and people with mental illnesses.

Some studies indicate that solitary confinement has the potential to make inmates more alienated and violent. Barack Obama declared that such an environment is not going to “make us safer” and may prevent people who served their time from becoming “productive members of society”.

President Obama states that there are certain individual cases where isolation is a necessary measure, mainly to protect other inmates, the staff or themselves, noting that “the practice should be limited, applied with constraints and used only as a measure of last resort”

Therefore, President Obama is now adopting the Justice Department's recommendations from the review it started to carry out last summer on the overuse of solitary confinement across U.S. prisons. These federal reforms include banning the use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in federal prisons and for low-level infractions, expanding treatment for the mentally ill, and increasing the time inmates in solitary confinement can spend outside their cells.

Such reforms could affect 10,000 inmates held in solitary confinement in the federal system. Barack Obama hopes federal reforms will serve as a model for state and local correction system reforms. He highlighted the positive results some U.S. states, such as Colorado or New Mexico, have already seen while reforming their prison systems.

As President Obama ends his presidency, banning solitary confinement is one part of his push for criminal justice reform to make the U.S. criminal justice system “smarter, fairer, less expensive and more effective”.

The IJJO welcomes the reforms pushed forward by the President of the United States and the Justice Department, and stresses the need to use solitary confinement only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest time possible, in very specific cases, and taking the appropriate measures to ensure the physical and psychological wellbeing of the inmate. The steps taken at a federal level should be followed at state and local levels.


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  • International Juvenile Justice Observatory (IJJO). Belgian Public Utility Foundation

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  • Head Office: Rue Mercelis, nº 50. 1050. Brussels. Belgium

    Phone: 00 32 262 988 90. Fax: 00 32 262 988 99. oijj@oijj.org

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