When a juvenile in New Jersey is tried for a crime, they are offered certain protections due to their vulnerable age. A minor’s brain is still developing and maturing, and they may be more capable of rehabilitation than an older, more established offender. Many convicted of juvenile crimes are victims of abuse themselves, or have mental or emotional disabilities.
Yet while some protections are offered to juveniles, they are still subject to many of the same disciplinary methods that adult offenders endure behind bars — like solitary confinement. However, experts are starting to question whether solitary confinement is an appropriate punishment for minors. Some are even questioning whether it constitutes torture.
In April 2012, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry released a statement calling for an end to the practice of solitary confinement for juveniles. They claimed that this practice could cause depression, psychosis and anxiety because their brains are still developing. They even noted that many suicides in juvenile correctional facilities happen during periods of solitary confinement.
Many other professionals are weighing in on the damage solitary confinement can inflict on developing brains. The United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture has urged a ban on solitary confinement of children and people with mental disabilities, saying that it fits the description of torture. The National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, the American Civil Liberties Union and many others have all weighed in as well. Many claim it creates lasting scars, and denies children access to basic rights like education, mental health treatment and physical activity. While some corrections officials don’t believe that it should be banned, many concede that it is punitive, not rehabilitative.
New Jersey has been a critical player in the debate on this topic. The New Jersey ACLU and other state organizations petitioned the state’s Juvenile Justice Commission in July 2013 to ban the use of solitary confinement of youths in juvenile facilities. The state rejected the petition this February after a $400,000 settlement over two boys who had been held in solitary for many months at a time.
The focus of the juvenile correctional system in New Jersey should hinge upon rehabilitation and protect their human rights. A Morristown criminal defense attorney can help assure that their client’s sentencing is fair, reasonable and focused on these goals.