• Mary Ellen Mastrorilli

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There are 2 comments on POV: Obama’s Ban on Juvenile Solitary Confinement

  1. Thank you for this wonderful analysis. I absolutely agree with you that situations should be evaluated on a case by case basis and helpful plans should be devised to support people. I also agree with you that in some cases it may be necessary to put someone in their own room.

    The kind of arrangement which you described, in which people who are housed in their own room have contact with medical staff, visits from various people, etc, is much more humane than some of the conditions of isolation that others have reported. When people are housed in conditions of almost total isolation, devastating psychological harm quickly seems to become apparent in many people. The conditions in the prison you are describing definitely sound far more humane than conditions of near complete social isolation which it sounds like may exist in some prisons.

    I absolutely agree with you that this is not a “black and white” issue. There is lots of room for creativity and flexibility. No one should be left alone for long periods of time with no one (or practically no one) to engage constructively with. But there do not necessarily need to be completely clear-cut rules or guidelines, as long as there is a broad agreement on what overall conditions should look like. It seems like some prisons are already using some more humane practices and others are working hard to do so.

    Understaffing of some prisons may make needed changes difficult in some situations. In these situations more staff should be added. It is not correctional officers’ fault if they are so understaffed that their primary goal needs to be on maintaining conditions of basic safety. I want them to be safe, and I want people in prisons to be safe.

    However, social isolation, when it is used (and I agree that it sounds like not all prisons necessarily use it), is not fundamentally safe for people’s mental well-being. Prisons should be funded at a level that allows people to have someone to speak with, even if a person must be in their own room because they are in a dangerous state. There should also be funding so that innovative programs (such as the one you describe) can be devised and implemented.

    Thank you so much for writing this article, as I think it speaks so beautifully to the complexity of this issue. Your story of helping the person who was struggling with some issues find helpful ways to grow and change was a beautiful story of what a team of people can accomplish together when they both care and have the time and resources to help.

    I am also grateful that President Obama put such a national focus on this issue through his executive order. It is wonderful when people in leadership positions focus attention and concern on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. It shows great character, integrity, and dedication to our human values. Many leaders in prisons are also showing this kind of commitment, which is very heartening.

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