The head of the North Carolina NAACP said his organization will conduct a statewide investigation into the use of solitary confinement for juveniles – and will push for an end to the practice.
“We are talking about young people who have not even been convicted. And they’re treated like the worst of criminals,” said the Rev. William Barber, the state NAACP’s president. “ … Getting in trouble doesn’t mean you can be tortured at the hands of the government.”
Barber’s comments come in response to Charlotte Observer stories this week showing that more than 110 juveniles were held in solitary confinement at Mecklenburg County’s Jail North in 2016 as they awaited trial. The 16- and 17-year-olds spend 23 hours alone in their cells as punishment for fighting, stealing or breaking other jail rules. They are allowed no visitors, no phone calls and no library books.
Many spend months in the jail awaiting trial. Some are never convicted.
Research has shown that solitary confinement can cause depression, anxiety, hallucinations and rage in adults. And experts say the experience can be even harder on youths, who don’t have the same psychological tools to cope with the stress.
President Obama in January banned solitary for youths in federal custody. Five months later, North Carolina officials announced a similar ban in the state prison system.
But in some county jails – including Jail North in Charlotte, the jail in downtown Raleigh and the High Point Detention Center – 16- and 17-year-olds who violate rules are still held in solitary confinement.
Jail officials in Mecklenburg County say they need to separate troublemakers from the general population.
“If a youthful offender is being disruptive or dangerous, we must separate that person from the general population to prevent further escalation of dangerous/disruptive behavior,” Sheriff Irwin Carmichael wrote in a statement.
But national experts say that relying heavily on solitary confinement is an outdated approach. Many states have found ways to eliminate or reduce solitary for teens.
Barber says he’d like to learn, among other things, how widespread the practice is in North Carolina, the races of those detained and the crimes they’ve been charged with.
“We would like to see this injustice stopped,” Barber said. “…This is going to become a major pillar in our criminal justice reform agenda.” [MORE]