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Pres. Obama Bans Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Prisons

Obama Prison reform

President Obama announced on Monday in an op-ed of the Washington Post that he was banning solitary confinement for juveniles in Federal prison. In support of his decision, he described the tragic case of Kalief Browder.

Kalief Browder, when he was 16, was charged with theft of a backpack. He was incarcerated at Rikers Island for three years waiting for trial. He was locked up almost two years in solitary confinement. After three long years waiting for trial, the charge in 2013, was dismissed by the prosecution. On June 6, 2015, two years after his release, Kalief committed suicide at the age of 22.

Before Kalief was charged with this alleged offense, he had only one other contact with the judicial system. He had plead guilty to unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and was placed on probation. Kalief, before the horror of Rikers had strong ties to his family. He was an average student at high school. The young man was known for his easy going manner and he behaved well at school.

From the beginning of his ordeal, Kalief insisted that he was innocent. A friend who was also charged with him was released pending a trial date. Because Kalief was on probation, the court ordered a bail bond, and the family did not have the funds to pay the bond.

During the next three years, young Kalief endured the daily hell at Rikers. He contended with the gangs and guards who brutalized the young inmates. The beatings were seen on camera and were publicized last year. One video revealed a prison guard brutally attacking the young man. During the course of three long years of imprisonment, without ever going to trial, he was denied meals, medical care,and he attempted several suicides.

Throughout his ordeal, Kalief Browder, insisted on his innocence. He rejected a plea offer from the government to plead guilty for time served after two years of imprisonment. Despite his living hell, the young man was not going to plead guilty to a false charge. Finally after three years of numerous court continuances including one for a prosecutor’s vacation, the charge was dismissed and Kalief Browder was released.

The three years of incarceration took a heavy toll on the young man. Browder struggled with his adjustment to the world outside of prison. He suffered from the effects of the brutal life at Rikers Island, and the punishing effects of long term solitary confinement. Despite continuing his education and working, he continued to suffer severe attacks of depression, and attempted suicide several times. He was a patient for a short period of time in a Harlem psychiatric hospital.

Browder told HLN in 2013,“Prior to going to jail, I never had any mental illness…I never tried to hurt myself, I never tried to kill myself, I never had any thoughts like that. I had stressful times prior to going to jail, but not like during jail. That was the worst experience that I ever went through in my whole life.”

It is anticipated that The Justice Department and the City of New York will complete an agreement this month on a reform plan that will hopefully end the inhumane abuses that have long dominated the jails at Rikers Island, New York. The city of New York had already agreed to discontinue solitary confinement for teenagers. Unfortunately, it was too late for Kalief Browder. The 22 year old hanged himself with an air conditioning cord at his family’s home in the Bronx.

It is estimated that almost 100,00 individuals, including juveniles and people with mental illnesses, are held in solitary confinement in the United States. The United States has the world’s largest number of defendants and inmates locked up in solitary confinement.

By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of


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27 Responses to Pres. Obama Bans Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Prisons

  1. PrisonPath January 26, 2016 at 9:58 pm #

    Hassan–that’s quite sweet news and most apt.

  2. PrisonPath January 27, 2016 at 1:58 am #

    Marc– Why is a teen (at the time) being put in solitary confinement to begin with? I understand why the court had him sent to jail, since he was arrested while on probation. But if he was a juvenile at the time, shouldn’t he have been housed in a different location instead of general population, thereby lessening the likelihood of him being put into solitary confinement which would lead to him [potentially] being alive now?
    While I don’t totally agree with everything the president is doing by banning solitary confinement, I do agree it should be a scrutinized option before sentencing someone to that punishment.

  3. PrisonPath January 27, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

    Harold– It’s just another thing he needs to keep his nose out of. I don’t know all the specifics of this case, but I was a Captain in a maximum security prison. I have 30 years that say there are times when it is necessary. If the system abuses this, then they need to be held accountable. I believe he’s made yet another bad decision to ban it completely. There are very serious and deadly juvenile gangs in our prison system that commit very serious offenses to staff and other inmates. I don’t condone unnecessary violence towards any inmate, but there are times when force (within reason) is justified, as is solitary.

  4. PrisonPath January 27, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

    Harold– Before everyone who starts speaking on issues they have no knowledge of, I personally have been punched, kicked, piped, and yes stabbed doing my job.

  5. PrisonPath January 27, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

    Patricia–I agree with all of your comments!!!! You have to walk the walk before you talk the talk- !!! Simple

  6. PrisonPath January 27, 2016 at 10:24 pm #

    Michele– Amen. Counseling should be implemented. Our youths minds are still growing. Unfortunately our society is corrupting our Youth from growing into productive adulthood. Carrying on habits from families that are unaware what resources are available to there family to change there statues.

  7. PrisonPath January 28, 2016 at 12:29 am #

    Charles– Even though I didn’t vote for Obama, my answer to his idea is yes and no. More No than yes. People who are incarcerated need discpline but at the same time a 16 year old boy isn’t exactly a grown man. Confinement should be taken on a case by case basis.

  8. PrisonPath January 28, 2016 at 12:30 am #

    Brad– It is not only the solitary confinement, but in some instances—abuse of inmates by officers..

  9. PrisonPath January 28, 2016 at 2:31 am #

    Charle–This can be a complicated matter. But I do think that dealing with minors the way we deal with adults, can yes be seen as abuse. The maturity level of a teenager will impact how they take the punishment.

  10. PrisonPath January 28, 2016 at 9:03 pm #

    William– BOP only shows less than 30 Juveniles in custody? Moot point and discussion compared to a larger of juveniles in state and local jails.

  11. PrisonPath January 28, 2016 at 10:06 pm #

    jay– Thank you Mr. Daly. The federal government usually sends their very few prison commitments to state facilities. Most of they come from Native American Reservations. In my 15 years as a Superintendent (warden) of large state juvenile facilities (prisons), I had multiple federal commitments from a variety of western states. The President is again fixing a problem that does not exist in the federal system.

    Ms Wheeler. CJ literature clearly indicates boot camps do not change rates of recividism. What you get is compliance instead of change. Most youth will glad march and salute in exchange for a reduced sentence. That does not mean they have changed their attitudes and behaviors. They are just smart enough to take advantage of the system

  12. PrisonPath January 28, 2016 at 10:07 pm #

    William– The news media is supposed to be an objective and non-biased not a delivery system for a particular partisan agenda. Today agenda trumps reporting, truth, everything. Very little is seen or heard about the work of the men and women working our nations jails and prisons (unless it is bad). The absolute danger that has and will continue to occur is that the vastly “uninformed” will be subjected to the false narrative of information as if it will make a significant difference at the federal level.

  13. PrisonPath January 29, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

    Charles– If a man my age gets thrown in the hole, and he does not have a mental health diagnosis. But a 17 year old male… I would have to think long and hard about that one. This can be a complicated matter. But I do think that dealing with minors the way we deal with adults, can yes be seen as abuse. The maturity level of a teenager will impact how they take the punishment.

  14. PrisonPath January 29, 2016 at 7:54 pm #

    Jose– There must have been some type of effort for the President to make that kind of decision.

  15. PrisonPath January 29, 2016 at 7:55 pm #

    John– This invites all kinds of constitutional challenges. Equal treatment under the law challenges are possible.

  16. PrisonPath January 29, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

    Kenneth– Once again The King In Chief sticking his nose where it does not belong. We are the Criminal Justice experts. This individual has his license to Practice law revoked. He knows nothing of our profession.

  17. PrisonPath January 29, 2016 at 9:13 pm #

    Nita–So what are we going to do, toss mentally ill juveniles in with the general [convicted] population where they can be more easily victimized? Perhaps that is the president’s goal?

  18. PrisonPath January 29, 2016 at 9:14 pm #

    Kristy– Interesting topic. This challenges us to think critically about the effect of solitary confinement on the human mind and moreover, about how certain occurrences/actions can have drastically different results on the mind of a youth. I’m not 100% sure about my stance on this matter without further data, but perhaps a limit to the amount of time is appropriate.

  19. PrisonPath January 29, 2016 at 9:14 pm #

    Brian– Worked in the Federal Prison System for 24 years, do not recall ever seeing a minor. People go to prison and then break the laws of the prison. You cannot take punishment away from staff as a control method.

  20. PrisonPath January 30, 2016 at 3:28 am #

    Scott– Wow, I work around juveniles, trust me when I say there is going to come a time you HAVE no choice to put them in confinement.

  21. PrisonPath January 30, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

    John– I agree with Scott, … I worked in corrections / detention and safety / security of the institution trumps all other factors to protect the inmates and public. We took an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution and Laws.

    You take away progressive discipline when these offenders can’t relate or are danger / committing serious rule violations (US TITLE 15, Penal Codes, Etc.) to the general population of prison / staff / officers, you will find out the hard way that taking away segregation / confindment / solitary will sends message and you will lose control of your institution and loss of life thru violence and increased attacks..

  22. PrisonPath January 30, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

    JOHN–Those in “The Know”… Know this is a BAD idea…, POTUS again taking this country and constitution down the toilet…

  23. PrisonPath January 31, 2016 at 12:30 am #

    Jim–Worked in the criminal justice system for the last 30 years and put my share of crooks in the pokey. As always, POTUS is putting his nose where it has no business. He does look good behind those cell bars

  24. PrisonPath January 31, 2016 at 12:32 am #

    Al–I worked for the California youth authority for 27years. I worked every position from GS to parole agent. 14-18yr Olds in the institution. 18-23yr Olds in parole.
    Most of our commitmentS were for violent crime. When acted out, there is no place safe except lock up. For their safety, staffs safety and others.
    So don’t start changing things you know nothing about. Walk in our shoes before you start running at the mouth. I admire your compassion for mankind, but in this case your out of your league.

  25. PrisonPath January 31, 2016 at 12:33 am #

    Jeff –Once again Obama is being blindsided and does not know the real facts.

  26. PrisonPath January 31, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    Mark– Just release all of them with a pardon. Disregard the thousands of lives ruined by heroin

  27. PrisonPath February 3, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

    Lisa– It won’t fix the screwed up judicial system. No one should be sitting in jail longer waiting for justice, than what they would get if given a plea or found guilty.
    Serious change is needed. Children should never be in with adults either. No matter the crime. Put them on home detention and have the prosecution pay for it. They wont take three years to prosecute if they are paying for the wait. Innocent until proven guilty.

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