On Monday, President Obama announced an executive order banning solitary confinement for juvenile offenders.
The Washington Post reports that, according to Obama, solitary confinement “is overused and has the potential for devastating psychological consequences.” Accordingly, he will also “prohibit federal corrections officers from punishing prisoners who commit ‘low-level infractions’ with solitary confinement. The new rules also call for expanding treatment for mentally ill prisoners.”
In an op-ed running in the Post, Obama emphasized both the danger of solitary confinement and the need to focus on rehabilitation: “How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people,” he writes. “It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.”
As studies demonstrate the deleterious effects of solitary confinement, a handful of states have also begun to curb their usage of it. For instance, in Illinois, Oregon and New York, mentally ill prisoners will no longer be subject to isolation. Per the Post, Obama said he “hoped his reforms at the federal level will serve as a model for states to rethink their rules on the issue.”
The president is moreover focused on developing programs that enable ex-offenders to successfully “reintegrate into society once they have left prison.”
“In America, we believe in redemption,” he writes.
American Civil Liberties Union senior staff counsel Amy Fettig tells the Washington Post that Obama’s attention to the country’s prisons is almost unprecedented. It’s not typical for a president to be so invested in the reform of correctional facilities.
“It’s absolutely huge,” Fettig remarked. “We rarely have presidents take notice of prison conditions.”
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