Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Juvenile Solitary Confinement as a Form of Child Abuse

Juvenile Solitary Confinement as a Form of Child Abuse

Andrew B. Clark. “Juvenile Solitary Confinement as a Form of Child Abuse.” The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 45, no. 3 (2017): 350-357.

Placing incarcerated juveniles into solitary confinement continues to occur in certain states of the United States, despite the accumulating evidence that it may cause substantial psychological damage to the teenagers who must endure it. The practice has been widely condemned by professional and human rights organizations, amid a growing appreciation of the immaturity and vulnerability of the adolescent brain. Although several states and the federal government have been successful in abolishing or dramatically reducing the use of juvenile solitary confinement, it remains common practice in many facilities. Clinicians working in correctional facilities where juvenile solitary confinement is employed are therefore faced with difficult questions of ethics, as to how best to balance their competing duties, and how to respond to such state-sanctioned ill treatment of their patients. Given the emerging consensus around the psychological damage wrought by sustained solitary confinement, clinicians may well reach the difficult conclusion that they are both legally mandated and ethically bound to file a report of suspected child abuse. Such a report would be unlikely to be investigated for administrative reasons, but it would allow clinicians to communicate the gravity of their concern effectively.

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Keywords: restrictive housing, segregated housing, segregation, juveniles, juvenile detention, juvenile justice, conditions of confinement, adolescent psychology, mental health, child abuse