Criminal Justice

Obama Bans Solitary Confinement for Juveniles; Supreme Court Expands Parole for Juveniles Serving Life

A big day for the rights of minors in the criminal justice system.

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President Obama and the Supreme Court took

I gotta say, it was a good day.
WH.gov

two very significant steps forward in the realm of criminal justice reform yesterday.

In a Washington Post op-ed, the president announced a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons, while the Supreme Court released its ruling in the case of Montgomery v. Louisiana, a 6-3 decision making the court's 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama (which ended the practice of sentencing juveniles to mandatory life sentences) retroactively effective. This means thousands of people convicted of murder before the age of 18 may have a chance of parole at some point during their sentence.

Laying out his reasoning for a federal ban on the use of solitary confinement for children, President Obama wrote:

Research suggests that solitary confinement has the potential to lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences. It has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior. Some studies indicate that it can worsen existing mental illnesses and even trigger new ones. Prisoners in solitary are more likely to commit suicide, especially juveniles and people with mental illnesses.

The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance. Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society. Imagine having served your time and then being unable to hand change over to a customer or look your wife in the eye or hug your children.

Writing for the Associated PressKathleen Hennessy explains how Obama came to his decision:

Obama asked the Justice Department to review the use of solitary confinement last summer, as part of the administration's increased focus on the criminal justice system. Activists have been pushing for changes to the prison system. 

The department review yielded a series of recommendations and 50 "guiding principles," which officials said would aim to ensure solitary confinement was an increasingly rare punishment used as an option of last resort when inmates posed a danger to staff, other inmates or themselves. 

The changes would also expand treatment for the mentally ill and ensure that inmates in solitary can spend more time outside their cells.

Obama said the reforms would affect roughly 10,000 inmates in the federal system. Roughly 100,000 people are in solitary confinement in the U.S., he said, adding that he hoped the changes would serve as a model for reforms at the state level.

Also in the Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin notes the growing push to limit the use of solitary at the state level. 

At least a dozen states have taken steps in the past two years to curtail the use of solitary confinement, either in response to lawsuits or through legislative and administrative changes. An increasing number of studies show a connection between isolating prisoners and higher rates of recidivism.

In recent weeks, Illinois and Oregon, in response to lawsuits, have announced they will exclude seriously mentally ill inmates from solitary confinement, and last month New York state reached a five-year, $62 million settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union in which it pledged to significantly cut the number of prisoners in solitary as well as the maximum time they could stay there. California reached a settlement in September, pledging to overhaul the way it treats almost 3,000 inmates who are frequently kept alone for more than 22 hours a day in their cells.

Moving from the executive to the judicial branch, the Supreme Court's decision gives new hope to what could be as many as 2,300 people serving sentences of life without parole, including Taurus Buchanan, who has been serving a life sentence in Louisiana for more than 21 years for killing another child with a single punch at the age of 16.

Reason TV's Todd Krainin reported on children in solitary confinement in 2013. Watch his powerful doc below.

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100 responses to “Obama Bans Solitary Confinement for Juveniles; Supreme Court Expands Parole for Juveniles Serving Life

  1. Serious question: how does a juvenile end up in a federal prison?

    1. I think it would be associated with drug distribution, especially over certain quantities, and firearms violations.

      1. I would expect many of them have violated email and blogging laws, for example by using inappropriately deadpan “parody” to mock and damage the reputation of people living in other states. Arguably, adolescents who do this sort of thing should be held in solitary. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

    2. Practice, practice, practice.

      1. I thought that was Carnegie (juvie) Hall.

    3. At the state level, juveniles commonly end up in prison for acts of extreme violence, including aggravated murders committed against other minors, including helpless children.

      Since the victims of teenage torturers and killers are disproportionately likely to be other teenagers (or children), yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling that allows thousands of such murderers to challenge their sentences is bad news for minors, not a step forward as the item above might suggest. Deterrence works, even among teenagers.

      I have spent years trying to curb harsh policies that harm school children, like zero-tolerance nonsense (see this 2001 New York Times letter by me: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/21/opi…..93452.html), and policies that deprive them of free speech (which I have criticized in law review articles)

      But as a libertarian lawyer and former court clerk, I find this Supreme Court ruling alarming, for the reasons given in my commentary reprinted below. (Moreover, the 2010 Miller decision’s rationale — that teenagers and young adults are more impulsive and have differently wired brains than older people — can and has been invoked by left-wing lawyers, such as Civil Rights Commissioner Michael Yaki, to try to justify restrictions on young adults’ free speech rights, such as campus speech codes).

      Montgomery v. Louisiana is a tragic decision, not a step forward, as I explain at this length: http://libertyunyielding.com/2016/01/25/77506/

      1. how does a juvenile end up in a federal prison?

        At the state level,

    4. “Historically, the federal juvenile population has consisted predominately of Native American males with an extensive history of drug and/or alcohol use/abuse, and violent behavior. These juveniles tend to be older in age, generally between 17 to 20 years of age, and are typically sentenced for sex-related offenses.

      In fact, the Federal Government has unique jurisdiction over crimes in Indian Country and the most serious crimes committed on reservations tend to be prosecuted in federal court. As a result, most federal juveniles are Native American. Typically, federal juvenile offenders have committed violent offenses and have a history of responding to interventions and preventive measures in the community unfavorably. As a last resort, they are sentenced by the federal courts to the custody of the Bureau (BOP). Federal law does not provide aftercare supervision for BOP custody cases following release from residential programs.”

  2. Ummm, solitary isn’t just a punishment. If you pissed off one of the gangs it’s sometimes the only place you can go that won’t get you killed. No, switching prisons doesn’t help. The gangs know where you transferred and they call up their buddies in the new place.

    Wonder how long until some kid ends up raped or dead because of this. We probably won’t hear about it.

    1. Prisons also have protective segregation for exactly that purpose. They go to a separate block and do showers, meals, and yard time separately from the general population.

      1. PC-ing up (protective custody) is a real thing in every jail/prison. They do end up indoors an awful lot and have to deal with gen-pop guys who mop the floors in PC aread spitting and dumping cups of piss on them from time to time. Definitely beats solitary, I’m sure.

      2. How do YOU know so much about prison?

        1. I suggest you watch Sons of Anarchy before you embarrass yourself further.

        2. Good question actually. Serious question: are any Reasonoids incarcerated? And I don’t mean in Warty’s basement or Steve Smith’s rape cabin/resort.

          1. Not incarcerated, but Step Mom, Dad, Sister, and Brother In Law all work in a prison doing various jobs. So I know more than the average person, and I am never ever letting anyone know if I get incarcerated.

    2. We probably won’t hear about it.

      The amount of sexual and physical abuse already taking place in the juvenile detention system makes the Catholic Church look like a safe haven for children.

    3. Is prison rape a problem? Prisoners are already serving time, after all. You can just tell their latest victim justice is already being served.

      1. Yes, there is a material difference between being put in a cage and being sodomized in that cage.

        1. She’s being sarcastic, broheim.

          1. Yeah, I got that part.

    4. Solitary confinement is meant and designed to be a punitive action taken against prisoners who are a danger to others in the prison. The fact that there are some prisoners who are put there because there is no other “safe” place for them does not make solitary confinement any less of a punishment.

      1. People who are put in solitary because it is a “safe” place are treated no differently from ones who are put there because they’re dangerous: they have little to no human interaction for long stretches of time, they are not provided any additional benefits, etc. When you’re in solitary, you get the whole enchilada, regardless of why you’re there.

        1. Still better than being murdered. Probably better than being raped, or maimed.

          1. Problem: Kids getting in trouble with gangs in prison, need a safe place to put them.
            Solution: Keep allowing kids to be sent to solitary confinement.

            Seems like you just want to do the easiest solution rather than coming up with a /good/ one.

            Better Solution: Expand amount of area allocated for protective segregation. Apparently, if there is room in solitary confinement, than solitary confinement has more space allocated to it than it needs. Reduce solitary confinement cells, use the space for protective segregation cells.

            1. What if someone can only be realistically protected if their “protective segregation” requires a population of 1? How much of the prison’s resources should be allocated to that task?

              How many distinct “protective segregation” populations should a prison be realistically expected to form and maintain?

              1. Also, not counting in the fact that just because they need to be segregated for their own safety doesn’t mean that they are non-violent. Often the people who are in danger of getting shanked are full participants in the culture and just as willing to maim or murder another inmate.

      2. Indeed, that our prison system uses solitary confinement for those who are not a danger to others but are constantly being harassed by other prisoners is an indication of our prison system’s inability to properly manage itself.

        1. an indication of our prison system’s inability to properly manage itself

          To which the solution is?

          1. ‘Safe spaces’

          2. Fewer people in prison, to begin with. Certainly fewer people in federal pens.

            1. Certainly fewer people in federal pens.

              Agreed, but this would require fewer federal laws. The only federal crimes defined or implied by the constitution are treason, enslavement, and bootlegging. The first two could be punished by death, and the last of the three could likely just be ignored by the feds and left to the states (since it’s their laws being broken anyway).

              Fewer people in prison, to begin with.

              Again, agreed, but what will take its place? I doubt strictly nonviolent drug offenders make up a large share of the prison population. I agree a petty thief doesn’t belong in a cage alongside a murderer; but he does deserve punishment and/or remediation to his victim.

              1. strictly nonviolent drug offenders

                Well, if Gandhi is your metric…well, sure.

                1. Well, if Gandhi is your metric…well, sure.

                  Don’t get me wrong, rescheduling drugs (or better yet repealing the Controlled Substances Act) is a very important and necessary step.

                  But if somebody is in there for theft and possession, they’re still a thief and that is a crime regardless of drug prohibition.

                  “Strictly nonviolent” is probably a poor wording (unless you consider theft violence against property, but whatever).

              2. Why would treason be a crime in the first place, much less a capital offense?

                1. Why would treason be a crime in the first place, much less a capital offense?

                  If you want to make war against the country or provide aid to its enemies, then you should at least have the decency to repudiate your citizenship and resign any positions of trust within the government.

                  To me, the sort of treason that qualifies for capital punishment is the sort committed by Julius Rosenberg. His wife Ethel, while a willing co-conspirator, should just have been deported to the USSR.

                  1. Nevertheless, my point was the only things that “have” to be federal crimes are very limited in scope. There are maybe a dozen traitors a decade, and I don’t think there are a lot of slavery prosecutions.

                    Almost every person in prison and almost every crime committed is or should be outside of the purview of the federal government.

                    1. No argument here. The federal government should not be in the criminal prosecution business.

          3. Drastic reduction in the number and severity of laws which would place somebody there.

            1. That only buys so much. Yes, the guy who got caught with pot and the guy who failed to pay his parking tickets doesn’t belong in prison. But how many people is that, really?

    5. You’re surprisingly up on the motivations of prisoners being put into solitary. Are you Aryan Brotherhood or MAS13?

      1. Lots of family work in the prison system (Guards, case managers, and administration). Stuff like this comes up.

  3. Shooting at Naval Medical Center San Diego. Possible active shooter situation.

    http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/26/…..index.html

    1. active shooter

      As opposed to “passive shooter”?

        1. I believe you mean “They are known as cops. Allegedly.”

      1. i.e. police officers

      2. Only police can be passive shooters…

      3. Active shooters jump around a lot more than mere gunmen.

    2. Hopefully, the shooter runs out of bullets before encountering a fellow member of America’s deranged gun culture!

      1. Likely a gun free zone, so, probably.

  4. Obviously, we need to get people who have been convicted of victimless crimes (non violent drug offenses, prostitution, etc.) out of prison. This would relieve some stress on the system right off the bat (of course, can’t do that because then we may have to lay off corrections officers and they have to feed their families, amiright?).

    And in general, mandatory life sentences don’t allow the judge (or the jury) room to take into account mitigating circumstances. However, remember that many of these laws were passed because judges in the 70s and early 80s were letting actual murderers out after ridiculously short sentences.

    The fact is, if we can get to the point, where prison is for real criminals, than it should be a terrible place.

    1. Why should it be a terrible place? Is cruelty and torture something you want to inflict on people, some of whom could still have been wrongly convicted?

      1. Because deliberately inflicting cruelty onto people who deliberately (or accidentally, or impulsively, or because they’re mentally ill/challenged) inflicted cruelty to other people restores balance to the world Epi. Two wrongs make a right if one of those wrongs is done by a bully in a uniform.

      2. What do you do with people who have a demonstrated propensity for violence to their fellow man?

        This is a question that has to be answered, even if it doesn’t account for a majority of the prison population.

        1. That has nothing to do with the question I asked. I didn’t ask what to do with them, I asked if violence and cruelty should be inflicted upon them as part of their punishment.

          1. I didn’t ask what to do with them, I asked if violence and cruelty should be inflicted upon them as part of their punishment.

            You didn’t, except you did?

            My question goes directly to the point of your question. What is to be done? Kill them? Lock them in solitary for eternity? Drug them?

            Brutalizing them may not be the answer, but then what is?

            1. You can segregate dangerous people from society without making their segregation a miserable punishment.

              1. You can segregate dangerous people from society without making their segregation a miserable punishment.

                How? If the prisoner wants to make the conditions miserable, then what?

            2. Scenario 1: Hardass parents who over-criticize, beat the crap out of their kid because they’re in a bad mood, and think kids are just born uncontrollable little shits.

              Scenario 2: Training a puppy by ignoring it most of the time, only to periodically go crazy and lock it in the garden shed. After a while, you realize the puppy is grown into a big dog and is still shitting in the house. So you shoot it.*

              In neither of these scenarios is the behavior patterned expected to get good results. It is predictable that they will get bad ones, in fact.

              Parenting should teach you, at the minimum, that there is a vast howling chasm separating discipline and punishment.

              1. Parenting should teach you, at the minimum, that there is a vast howling chasm separating discipline and punishment.

                How do you teach discipline to a gangbanging rapist and murderer?

                1. Are you arguing that the current way is doing so?

                  1. Are you arguing that the current way is doing so?

                    What is this misdirection?

                    BearOdinson said “The fact is, if we can get to the point, where prison is for real criminals, than it should be a terrible place”

                    Epi retorted “Why should it be a terrible place?”

                    I said “What do you do with people who have a demonstrated propensity for violence to their fellow man?”

                    And everything that has followed has completely been beside the point. Take someone who is already a demonstrably violent felon. What do you do with them?

                    1. I followed the same thread trail, I know where we’ve been. You’ve been answering questions with questions. Apparently in defense of methods widely known to be ineffective – horrible, and horribly ineffective no less – in other areas.

                      I was trying to ascertain whether this was the case. These things are not always clear. Because if you are defending poor methods, I’m curious why you are content with our documented poor results; further, why questioning a status quo of poor methods and bad results leaves me the badthinker. Seems counterintuitive.

                      And if you aren’t – if you are, in fact, willing to entertain the notion that a plan which has consistently failed, and become an expensive boondoggle with ever-decreasing focus on law and order, might NOT need another few trillion dollars and two decades before we concede the point – well that opens up whole new options in the range of discussion. Such as moving on to how switching from punishment and command-control of non-linear systems to discipline might work, and which discipline methods already known to be effective in other areas could be transferred to different environments, and how best to balance liberty in all of this.

                      But go ahead and impute nothing more than bad intentions and stupidity on my part. It’s a free country.

                    2. But go ahead and impute nothing more than bad intentions and stupidity on my part.

                      WTF?

                      I’m engaging in a discussion about a topic. The topic is a specific subset of the prison population. The sort of people for whom “discipline” is a meaningless abstraction. The sort of people who see a woman and decide whether to rape her now, or rape her later. The sort of people who see children as sex toys. The sort of people who spare other people’s lives only as long as they find them useful.

                      What should be done with them?

                      You are now rambling about platitudes and putting words in my mouth.

                    3. The sort of people who cause a lot of emotion and “do something!” when mentioned.

                      You are now rambling about platitudes and putting words in my mouth.

                      OR, I might have been trying to sincerely communicate and you’re proving my point about imputing bad intentions and stupidity. Lucky for you, you’re the best person situated to know what’s going on in my head.

                    4. The sort of people who cause a lot of emotion and “do something!” when mentioned.

                      Sure, but they still exist! I’m not making them up.

                      Lucky for you, you’re the best person situated to know what’s going on in my head.

                      WTF x2?!? I have not said anything about your intentions or your intelligence. Can you try to address something I’ve said, or at least offer something constructive to discuss besides vagueries?

      3. I never used the word torture or cruelty. You did. But should prison be a pleasant place to pass the time? Should we get rid of prison altogether? Is prison itself the very definition of torture and cruelty?

        A man who rapes a woman, or a thug who robs a family, or gangbangers who kill an innocent child, these aren’t children (or puppies) that needs correction. These are individuals who have deliberately chosen to forsake their humanity. I am proposing that prison be reserved for criminals who have harmed other people. And I am also proposing that these prisons be terrible places that those who are willing to become criminals dread going to.

        What is your proposal?

        1. You still haven’t explained why.

    2. Corrections officers actually don’t care. At least in the states I know about, they are way overloaded. They’d be ecstatic if the case loads dropped by about fifty percent. Parole officers especially wish the numbers would go down. They’ve got too many folks to manage, which just means it’s a roulette game that one of their offenders is going to show up on the nightly news.

      1. What is bad for the corrections officers is not necessarily bad for the corrections officers’ unions or for the slew of administrators and other DOC personnel.

  5. I have some concerns about this.

    Some of the most violent and dangerous street gang soldiers out there are the ones between the ages of 14 and 18, trying to prove themselves.

    I played poker with a guy that was showing us forensic photos of his brother’s victims from prison. His brother had gone to prison when he was 16 for murder, and he killed two more inmates while he was in prison–supposedly for being rats.

    If the government has any legitimate function at all, it’s to protect our rights, and if protecting our rights from that guy, after being duly convicted for three murders, requires the government to keep him in prison until the day he dies, then that’s what the government should do.

    1. The problem is that it’s impossible to truly assess whether somebody is or is not still a threat. There’s a reason governors and presidents are generally reticent to pardon people. Upside: you potentially do a good dead, downside: you potentially get someone’s post-release crimes hung around your neck.

      What should make someone eligible for parole after a murder conviction? Who is qualified to assess it, and how?

      1. “What should make someone eligible for parole after a murder conviction?”

        I think it should depend on the nature of the crime.

        The guy who freaks out because he comes home early from work and finds his wife in bed with his friend and the 15 year old who’s so broken, not only does he murder a rival gang member for mere street cred, he kills more people with his bare hands once he’s incarcerated? There’s a clear difference there to me.

        I guess it speaks to why we’re incarcerating people in the first place. For some people, it’s because of retribution and we want deterrence. For other people, like that psycho gangbanger kid, it’s about incapacitation. He doesn’t belong in the mall or at school with the other kids.

        If that three time murder kid isn’t really a basket case, who cares? He certainly isn’t being held unjustly because of his youth. Why make that a factor? Why not release him because he’s Hispanic, too?

        1. I don’t see how the parole process wouldn’t account for this.
          Parole Candidate 1: In prison 10 years and killed two additional people.
          Parole Candidate 2: In prison 10 years, earned a GED and teaches reading to new inmates.

          It seems like the parole board could make an informed decision.

          1. Until Parole Candidate 2, now Parolee 2, murders someone and the public demands “reform”.

      2. The problem is that it’s impossible to truly assess whether somebody is or is not guilty or innocent. There’s a reason prosecutors and jurors are generally reluctant to convict people. Upside: you potentially do a good dead, downside: you potentially destroy someone’s life for no reason.

        What should make someone eligible for prison after a murder conviction? Who is qualified to assess it, and how?

        1. There’s a reason prosecutors and jurors are generally reluctant to convict people

          If only. Prosecutors and jurors seem quite eager to convict people.

          No one is omniscient, that much is true. So what do you do?

    2. Yep. I think if a government official wants to let a murderer out of jail, he should be on the hook as an accomplice if that person kills again. That said, I am a believer in restorative justice. If a murder does some time, and manages to bring his victim back to life, then he should be allowed to go free.

      1. There is a certain class of murders for which one could reasonably say the murderer is very unlikely to offend again, and the deterrent effect of locking him up is not materially affected by a finite but lengthy term vs. a life term.

        e.g. someone who killed the rapist of their child

        1. e.g. someone who killed the rapist of their child

          That’s what jury nullification is for.

          1. And if the jury didn’t nullify?

            1. Then they didn’t do their job.

              *shrug*

        2. I don’t remember where I read this, but murderers have one of, if not the, lowest recidivism rates. With the obvious exception of organized crime, the majority of murders are crimes of passion. As in an argument could be made that the victim deserved it.

      2. “ARISE, Chicken!”

  6. There is a clause to these new executive orders.

    *The above described bans only apply to young men who “would look like my son, if I had a son.”

  7. Great. Still won’t be impressed until he flexes executive power to move weed out of the schedule 1 category. I don’t smoke it, but my chronically ill wife suffers with constant nausea, is allergic to the most effective antiemedic, and her pain specialist is barred by federal regulations from prescribing any kind of marijuana treatment in conjunction with her opiate prescription.

    1. Sorry to hear about your wife.

      Yeah, Obama’s refusal to reschedule cannabis only makes sense to me as a political bone he’s throwing to public employees / police unions or something. It just doesn’t make sense.

      Of course, if Obama had his way, he’d probably schedule soft drinks at fast food restaurants if he could. He’s just openly hostile to doing anything that might leave people at the mercy of their own choices.

      With Obama, it’s like we’re getting the worst of the easy on crime liberal stuff, but none of the good stuff we should like about liberals.

  8. It’s unfortunate that a young Barry didn’t get to spend some quality time in solitary for smoking weed and doing some occasional blow. It would have been a good experience for him.

    1. Given the records available on young Barry, how do you know he didn’t?

    2. He smoked a lot of pot and that didn’t seem to change his mind on legalization.

  9. I heard this morning that there’s some kind of congressional head-scratcher going on where they’re trying to figure out how to reduce America’s prison population. I wonder if striking a couple hundred dozen bad laws from the books will be considered?

    1. I wonder if striking a couple hundred dozen bad laws from the books will be considered?

      Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ha ha ha ha ha! That was great! Got any more? Should I try the veal?

  10. including Taurus Buchanan, who has been serving a life sentence in Louisiana for more than 21 years for killing another child with a single punch at the age of 16.

    Apropos of nothing, I’m always a little surprised at how many people die every year from a single punch. It’s a little disconcerting, to be honest.

    1. Happened around here not to long ago. Some kid though it would be fun to knock this dude out in front of his girlfriend. Dude fell to the ground, cracked his skull on a brick, and died.

      1. It’s happened MULTIPLE times here, let alone the other incidents around the country I read about.

        My “favorite” was the guy who tried to break up a fight between a homeless man and woman, homeless dude one-punched him, samaritan died when he hit the pavement.

    2. Ok, but 99.9997% of those incidents are the fault of One-Punch Man.

      1. Is he related to One-Pump Chump?

      2. Apparently, he one-punched your link.

    3. Head ass is a delicate. Often, a killer punch is the violent push that propels the head into traumatic impact- the temples and back of the cranium being the least resistant to deadly trajectories.

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