Every day in the U.S children under the age of 18 are held in solitary confinement. This is not an irregular occurrence but a relatively common practice used to isolate, separate from the general population, observe, and punish. Sometimes they get a mattress, but are prohibited from laying on it during the day. Frequently the cells are cold, temperature being an intentional punishing element. In an isolation cell at a youth detention center in Miami the temperature was a brisk 59 degrees. The young boy in the cell, pictured below, was wearing only his cotton t-shirt and shorts. He was cold. He said that he had been in his windowless isolation cell without books or study material for over 72 hours, only coming out for two hours to bathe and exercise. [superquote]The existence of the isolation cell in our society is a problem. As Fredrick Douglass stated, “You do not manage a social wrong. You should be ending it.”[/superquote] [superquote]Solitary confinement of young people often seriously harms their mental and physical health.[/superquote]
– Young people are subjected to solitary confinement in jails and prisons nationwide, and often for weeks and months.
– When subjected to solitary confinement, adolescents are frequently denied access to treatment, services, and programming adequate to meet their medical, psychological, developmental, social, and rehabilitative needs.
– Solitary confinement of young people often seriously harms their mental and physical health, as well as their development.
In an effort to understand the experience of isolation, Richard Ross will be spending 24 hours in an isolation cell at an undisclosed juvenile detention center in the midwest. At this facility every child who is brought in the door spends their first 24 hours in an isolation cell. The institution says that during this time the child can calm down and come down if they are under the influence, all while being checked on every 15 minutes by line officers. The institution wants to “understand” the child before mingling them with the general population, we are told.
Ross’s experience will completely mirror the experience of the children– he will wear the uniform, eat the food, and bring nothing into the cell. The entire duration of his isolation will be documented via a camera on a timer, taking photos at frequent and regular intervals. The only difference being that at his is a voluntary experience. As Richard states, “In the larger picture, I control the situation. The kids that are placed in here have a different situation, they are unsure when they will be brought out. There is no panic button, there is no ‘O.K, I’m done, let me out.’ There is only solitude and a complete lack of control.”