About 10,000 inmates in United States federal prisons could be facing the direct consequences of President Barack Obama’s reforms on solitary confinement. Obama announced a ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in an op-ed for The Washington Post on Monday Jan. 25. Obama’s reforms also include the ban on solitary confinement for low-level infractions, expanding the amount of time an inmate can spend outside of solitary per day and more treatment for mentally ill prisoners.
The reforms come after Obama asked the Justice Department and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review the excessive usage of solitary confinement in prisons across the nation in July 2015, according to The Washington Post. Obama made a speech about this issue that same month at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He stated, “Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day for months, sometimes for years at a time? That is not going to make us safer, that is not going to make us stronger. And if those individuals are ultimately released, how are they ever going to adapt?”
Obama further stated that “the U.S. is a nation of second chances;” he believes that prisons should be a place where people should get trained to be able to fit back into society, not to alienate them even more. “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,” Obama said, according to The Washington Post.
The research, however, did find that solitary confinement can be a useful method, but the usage should be limited and only used when necessary, according to Obama’s statement in The Washington Post. He said, “They found that there are circumstances when solitary is a necessary tool, such as when certain prisoners must be isolated for their own protection or in order to protect staff and other inmates. In those cases, the practice should be limited, applied with constraints and used only as a measure of last resort.”
The New York Times said that this new reform goes along with his policy to revise the criminal justice system in the U.S. He has reviewed the sentences of many nonviolent delinquents since taking office, and an assembly of legislators in the Senate is pushing for an enactment of an extensive bill to decrease the minimum sentences of nonviolent drug offenses, according to The New York Times.
The roughly 10,000 inmates this new policy is going to affect are about ten percent of the inmates that are in a solitary cell in a federal prison, according to The Guardian. The BBC, however, does note that the reforms only apply to federal prisons, but that most prisoners are held in state prisons. In his op-ed, Obama stated that he hoped that this change at the federal level would serve as a model for prisons at the state and local level.
Editor’s Note: Information from The Washington Post, the BBC, The Guardian and The New York Times was used in this report.