Regarding President Obama’s Jan. 26 op-ed, “Rethinking solitary confinement”:
Two years ago, I met my own Kalief Browder, whose tragic story is emblematic of why we must rethink solitary confinement. Ojore Lutalo spent 22 years in solitary confinement. Since his release, Mr. Lutalo has spread awareness of an overused and unproductive practice. He inspired me to advocate for prison reform. I am a student worker at Kean University’s Human Rights Institute. An upcoming conference on the business of incarceration in the United States will include a solitary-confinement replica that will let people experience briefly the indignity of isolation.
Against all odds, enduring unimaginable pain, Mr. Lutalo found redemption through his art. Now I can join him to help shine a light on suffering endured for far too long by prisoners denied basic human rights. Thanks to Mr. Obama’s vision and leadership, I hope that U.S. prisons become a model of rehabilitation, producing citizens prepared to pursue happiness in a land of second chances.
Obinna Woko, Irvington, N.J.
President Obama’s charge to ban solitary confinement for juveniles is encouraging, but I’m concerned about why many of those juveniles were confined in the first place. They were confined for their own protection from adult inmates. Now we need to ban the prosecution of children as adults in this country. Thirteen- and 16-year-olds are forced to share horrible adult facilities with the general prison population.
So much is broken, and the suggestion that Congress might reform sentencing laws or expand reentry programs offers much-needed hope. But it isn’t enough. A ban on sentencing children as adults must immediately be invoked.
Christy Shick, Berkeley, Calif.
The potential psychiatric consequences of prolonged solitary confinement are well-recognized. They include depression, anxiety and psychosis. Juveniles and people with preexisting psychiatric disorders are particularly vulnerable to such adverse reactions. Research also demonstrates that the majority of suicides in juvenile correctional facilities occur when the person is in solitary confinement or otherwise isolated.
In his powerful op-ed, President Obama highlighted these risks. He also correctly observed that solitary confinement “doesn’t make us safer” and concluded that the practice is “an affront to our common humanity.” His decision to ban the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in the federal prison system sends a timely and important message. I hope the president’s initiative encourages state legislators and correctional administrators to institute similar reforms.
David Fassler, Burlington, Vt.
The writer is a clinical professor of psychiatry
at the University of Vermont.
We applaud President Obama for banning the practice of holding juveniles in solitary confinement in federal prisons. Research demonstrates that adolescents are still developing in neurological, cognitive and emotional domains. As a result, solitary confinement can have especially devastating consequences for them. It is associated with increased risk of self-mutilation, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, paranoia and aggression.
Because of the significant negative effects of solitary confinement on psychological development, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has stated that juvenile solitary confinement should be considered cruel and unusual treatment. We at the American Psychological Association look forward to the implementation of the Justice Department’s recommendations and call on Congress to ensure that it fulfills the promise of its bipartisan efforts to reform the federal criminal-justice system. We also call on states to follow suit if they have not already.
Susan H. McDaniel, Washington
The writer is president of the American Psychological Association.
President Obama admirably wants to reduce the use of solitary confinement and improve mental-health services for prisoners. But a smarter approach would be to reduce the number of people with mental illness who are incarcerated. That could be achieved by removing the Institutions for Mental Disease Exclusion from Medicaid. The exclusion prevents states from receiving Medicaid reimbursement for seriously mentally ill adults who need long-term hospital care. It is federally sanctioned discrimination against the seriously mentally ill and forces communities to incarcerate the mentally ill after they become violent, rather than treat them before.
D.J. Jaffe, New York
The writer is executive director
of Mental Illness Policy Org.