The use of seclusion and restraint for children with special needs in our nation’s schools has received national attention. These practices have been deemed as cruel and dangerous, and various pieces of legislation have been proposed to eliminate their use. Yet, these practices are being used on an ongoing basis on our nation’s incarcerated youth. Up to 81,000 teens are incarcerated in juvenile facilities on any given night, and an additional 10,000 teens are in adult prisons. According to the ACLU, which released a report on solitary confinement in October, a significant number of these facilities isolate youth for days, weeks, months, or even years. The use of solitary confinement, according to the ACLU, causes “anguish, provokes serious mental and physical health problems, and works against rehabilitation for teenagers.”
One of the most tragic outcomes for incarcerated youth is suicide, and half of teen suicides occur while youth are placed in solitary isolation. A position paper published by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, which expresses concern about the high rate and potential underreporting of teen suicides in jails, states that further research is needed to delineate better the relationship between suicide and isolation. Yet, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (5), the research is in already. The potential psychiatric consequences of prolonged use of solitary confinement on these “developmentally vulnerable” adolescents are “well recognized” and include depression, anxiety, and psychosis.