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Young inmates should not be held in isolation, report says

NEW YORK — State governments should abolish the use of solitary confinement for offenders under 18, whether as a punitive or protective measure, two leading advocates for prisoners’ rights said in report.

Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union said brief periods of isolation may be needed as a security measure. But they contend that longer spans of solitary confinement can cause serious psychological and physical harm to young people, including heightened risk of suicide.

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Solitary confinement of adults also can be harmful, the report said. ‘‘But the potential damage to young people, who do not have the maturity of an adult and are at a particularly vulnerable, formative stage of life, is much greater.’’

The report, ‘‘Growing Up Locked Down,’’ said lack of detailed state data made it impossible to estimate the number of juveniles subjected to solitary confinement and other forms of isolation at any given time. But it described the practice as widespread, notably among juveniles held in adult facilities.

The report cited psychiatric studies and medical specialists warning of the risks that solitary confinement could pose to juveniles. It included input from 49 people who spent time in jails or prisons as minors.

The report’s author, human rights researcher Ian Kysel, acknowledged that young people can present serious challenges for corrections officials.

His report also says youths shouldn’t be serving time in adult jails and prisons.

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