Obama announces a ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons

President Obama.
(Image credit: Pool/Getty Images)

In an op-ed, President Obama said he is adopting recommendations from the Justice Department to reform the federal prison system, including banning solitary confinement for juveniles as a response to low-level infractions.

Other reforms include expanding treatment for the mentally ill and increasing the amount of time inmates in solitary confinement can spend outside of their cells. "These steps will affect some 10,000 federal prisoners held in solitary confinement — and hopefully serve as a model for state and local corrections systems," Obama wrote in The Washington Post. He explained that last summer, he asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the Department of Justice to review the overuse of solitary confinement in the United States, and they found that "the practice should be limited, applied with constraints, and used only as a measure of last resort."

As many as 100,000 people are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, the president wrote, and research suggests there is a link between being in solitary and "depression, alienation, [and] withdrawal." Prisoners in solitary are more likely to commit suicide, and some studies show that it can make existing mental illnesses worse and trigger new ones. Obama wrote that his "most important job is to keep Americans safe," and overall crime rates have "decreased by more than 15 percent." However, "how can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn't make us safer. It's an affront to our common humanity."

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He also said members of Congress are working together to reform sentencing laws and expand reentry programs, and he hopes they will send him "legislation as soon as possible that makes our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, less expensive, and more effective."

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