[Ppnews] New Report Shows Juvenile Lifers Suffering in Solitary Confinement

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jan 3 12:16:52 EST 2012

New Report Shows Juvenile Lifers Suffering in Solitary Confinement

January 3, 2012

Casella and James Ridgeway


The United States is the only national in the 
world that doles out life sentences for crimes 
committed while the offender was below the age of 
18. According to a 
released yesterday by Human Rights Watch, 
“approximately 2,570 youth offenders serving life 
without parole sentences in adult US prisons,” 
and as inmates they ”experience conditions that 
violate fundamental human rights.”

The report “draws on six years of research, and 
interviews and correspondence with correctional 
officials and hundreds of youth offenders serving 
life without parole,” and presages the Supreme 
Court’s upcoming review of juvenile LWOP. “Youth 
offenders are serving life without parole 
sentences in 38 states and in federal prisons,” 
HRW reports. “Prison policies that channel 
resources to inmates who are expected to be 
released often result in denying youth serving 
life without parole opportunities for education, 
development, and rehabilitation.”

Among the report’s shocking findings is the fact 
that “nearly every youth offender serving life 
without parole reported physical violence or 
sexual abuse by other inmates or corrections 
officers.” Unsurprisingly, “Youth offenders 
commonly reported having thoughts of suicide, 
feelings of intense loneliness, or depression. 
Isolation was frequently compounded by solitary 
confinement. In the past five years, at least 
three youth offenders serving life without parole 
sentences in the 
States have committed suicide.”

In its section on “Protective and Punitive 
Isolation,” the report finds that “Youth 
offenders often spend significant amounts of 
their time in US prisons isolated from the 
general prison population. Such segregation can 
be an attempt to protect vulnerable youth 
offenders from the general population, to punish 
infractions of prison rules, or to manage 
particular categories of inmates, such as alleged 
gang members. Youth offenders frequently 
described their experience in segregation as a profoundly difficult ordeal.”

It continues: “Life in long-term isolation 
usually involves segregating inmates for 23 or 
more hours a day in their cells. Offenders 
contacted by Human Rights Watch described the 
devastating loneliness of spending their days 
alone, without any human contact, except for when 
a guard passes them a food tray through a slot in 
the door, or when guards touch their wrists when 
handcuffing them through the same slot before 
taking them to the exercise room or for a shower 
once a week. Youth had the same experience and 
feelings whether they had been isolated to protect or to punish them.”

The report’s findings on the use of solitary 
confinement on juvenile lifers (with 
corresponding footnotes) appears below. You can 
also read the full report–which includes a series 
of recommendations to the president, Congress, 
corrections officials, and 
or as a 

Protection that Harms

A growing consensus views protective isolation as 
acceptable only as a last resort and interim 
Yet isolation is commonly used by prison 
officials as a quick solution to protection 
challenges­including the challenge of keeping a 
young person safe in a prison full of adults.

Youth offenders reported to Human Rights Watch 
that they sometimes sought out protective custody 
to avoid harm. Occasionally, prison authorities 
recognize the problems a youth offender is having 
and take corrective measures. Jeffrey W., who entered prison at age 17, wrote:

At the beginning, the focus was on surviving
Naturally, I was the target of sexual predators 
and had to fight off a couple rape attempts
These were hardened, streetwise convicts who had 
been in prison 10, 15, 20, 30 years and I was a 
naive 18-year-old who knew nothing about prison 
. Because of the rape attempts on me 
prison officials [said] I should have been 
classified as needing protection. I was soon sent 
to the state’s protection unit
. I stayed there 
for seven years until I was returned to the 
general population­older, wiser, and capable of 
surviving general 
segregation can exacerbate the lack of 
opportunities for programs described in more detail later in this report:

Right now I’m not receiving no schooling or 
counseling due to being in ASU Administrative 
Segretion Unit. They have no schooling for me or 
etc. They are way out of conduct here. I been 
asking to receive some GED work but I haven't 
receive no response. I wish to receive schooling. 
I learn how to read and write in prison and I 
want to be successful. I might get out one 
periods of isolation can be devastating for 
anyone, but are especially devastating for young 

Punishment with a Permanent Impact

Youth offenders are often placed in long-term 
isolation or super-maximum security confinement 
as a disciplinary sanction. Dennis Burbank, an 
administrative officer at Colorado State 
Penitentiary, offered an explanation for why 
youth offenders serving life without parole often 
end up confined in long-term isolation:

One [factor] is age­when you come in at a young 
age with life without, there’s not a whole lot of 
light at the end of the tunnel. Also, it’s kind 
of a guy thing: the young ones come in with a lot 
of fear, anxiety, paranoia, and they want to make 
a name for themselves­so they have a tendency to 
act out
. They say [to themselves] ‘I’ve got to 
impress everyone with what a bad-ass I 
isolation can have lasting negative effects on 
inmates. Troy L. came to prison at age 16 after 
committing first degree murder at the age of 15. 
He spent “something like 300 days in an isolation 
cell” when he was awaiting trial and had been 
transferred to isolation several times since for 
Troy said he had spent so much time in isolation 
that he was unable to feel comfortable relating 
to and living around other people, especially now 
that he was housed in the general population barracks:

If you just see what these barracks are like, 
they got us piled in there like some cockroaches. 
And I’ve spent so much time over the years 
just cells and lockdown for different reasons. 
And it’s hard for me to deal with just having so 
many people around. So much­I can’t think­you 
know what I 
Rights Watch has systematically documented and 
advocated against the human rights violations 
inherent in the incarceration of individuals in 
super-maximum security prisons throughout the 
Segregated living also has long-term 

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