Solitary confinement even more devastating for young prisoners

Adrian Walker explored the psychological damage solitary confinement can do to adults (“Questioning isolation’s price,” Metro, Jan. 16). But it is even more devastating for kids. Massachusetts automatically tries 17-year-olds as adults, no matter how minor the charges against them. They await trial and serve sentences in adult facilities, where they are routinely placed in solitary confinement. That’s 23 hours a day without human contact for a kid who is likely already terrified.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry opposes holding minors in solitary confinement. The risks of depression, anxiety, and psychosis facing anyone in isolation are more severe for adolescents, and they dramatically increase their risk of suicide. In 1990, the United Nations General Assembly called for an end to solitary confinement of juveniles, a practice the UN included on a list of “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.”

Instead of segregating 17-year-olds to protect them from physical and sexual assault by adult prisoners, the Commonwealth should set the age of adult prosecution at 18, as most states do. Holding 17-year-olds accountable in the juvenile system, which is safer and has a better track record of rehabilitating youth, would save taxpayers the enormous cost of solitary confinement. It would also save young people the even greater cost of psychological harm.

Lael Chester

Executive director

Citizens for Juvenile Justice