RALEIGH – The North Carolina Department of Public Safety yesterday announced plans to end the practice of placing youthful offenders in solitary confinement by September 2016. North Carolina is one of two states in the country that still charges 16 and 17 year olds as adults and places them in adult correctional facilities.
As of June 7, there were 67 children under the age of 18 in North Carolina prisons, 16 of which were segregated from the general population in some form of solitary confinement. Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced that it would end the solitary confinement of juveniles in federal prisons.
In 2015, a coalition of human rights organizations sent a letter asking the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in North Carolina prisons.
Six of those groups—the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of North Carolina, North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, the University of North Carolina School of Law Human Rights Policy Lab, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and NC Stop Torture Now—released the following statement in response to yesterday’s news:
“If properly implemented, these much-needed reforms will save 16 and 17 year olds from the horrific trauma and psychological damage that is caused by locking someone in a cell for 23 hours a day without fresh air, human contact or appropriate treatment.
“We applaud the Department of Public Safety for taking steps to address North Carolina’s overreliance on solitary confinement and for working to save young people from this cruel practice that can ruin lives and does nothing to enhance public safety. However, there is still much work that must be done to reform North Carolina’s use of solitary confinement, particularly with respect to inmates who suffer from mental illness.
“Today’s announcement shows once again that it is past due time for North Carolina to join 48 other states and finally raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction so that 16 and 17 year olds are no longer automatically sent to the adult criminal justice system but rather protected and given a chance to turn their lives around.”