St. Lucy's Priory High School

Opinion: President Obama’s ban on solitary confinement is a positive step

Kristine Kuhn and Katelyn Ray show their support and their opposition to Obama’s recent banning of solitary confinement for prisoners under the age of 18.

A typical solitary confinement cell
A typical solitary confinement cell

Pro (written by Kristine Kuhn): 

On Jan. 25, President Obama announced a ban on solitary confinement for prisoners aged 18 or younger. He also announced new rules that cut the maximum number of days a prisoner can be held in solitary confinement from 365 days to 60 days.

Though the Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment, it has been questioned and debated for many years as to whether solitary confinement can be classified as such.

This ban is a good call from President Obama and will lead to better treatment of imprisoned individuals.

Since the 1950s, tests have been conducted on animals and humans to see how the brain starts to change when placed in complete isolation. Psychologist Harry Harlow did a test on rhesus monkeys placed in solitary chambers nicknamed “the pits of despair” in the 1950s. He found that these monkeys seemed “profoundly disturbed, given to staring blankly and rocking in place for long periods, circling their cages repetitively, and mutilating themselves.”

In 1951, McGill University in Montreal had a group of male graduate students at their university stay in small chambers with only a bed. They were only allowed to leave to use the restroom and they wore goggles, earphones, and gloves to limit their senses of sight, hearing, and touch.

Though the researchers planned to run this experiment for six weeks, the students only lasted for seven days. At that point they had “lost the ability to think clearly about anything for any length of time” and were experiencing hallucinations.

About 20% of all inmates are classified as “seriously mentally ill” and psychologists warn that placing these people in solitary confinement could further damage their mental health; it is even possible, and likely, for them to become psychopaths.

Even a person who has great mental health could suffer from stress, tension, and anxiety if placed in solitary confinement for a week. These prisoners are more likely to have random bouts of anger, and are more likely to engage in self-mutilation or commit suicide once released from complete isolation.


Con (written by Katelyn Ray):

Though Obama’s recent ban on juvenile solitary confinement is rooted in positive intentions, this new law undermines the justice system’s work to secure public safety.

Justification of this new criminal justice act lies in the argument that solitary confinement leads to psychological ramifications in the future and violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. However, such arguments do not hold true in the context of Obama’s new law.

Special exceptions to solitary confinement proceedings twist the long-held laws to accommodate criminals under the age of 18, despite the fact that such juveniles still are, in fact, prisoners. Denying the punishment of solitary confinement to minors in a situation where such proceeds would have been deemed necessary, had the offender been an adult, is in itself a “cruel and unusual punishment” to society.

Such actions only reinforce the idea that bad behavior is acceptable, as adequate consequences for rule breaking are not properly served. This merely enables the cycle for violence and intolerable behavior to continue into an adulthood of delinquency, as lessons will never be learned by the adolescent offenders.

Solitary confinement should be served when such inappropriate actions by prisoners, no matter the age, equate to such a punishment. Disciplinary action like this cannot be dubbed as “cruel and unusual” when a convict knowingly and intentionally proceeds to misbehave.

In the case of under-aged prisoners, they too act in full awareness of their potential consequences and still choose to violate the rules. Doing so results in the prescribed punishment, equivalent to that of an adult because misbehaving adolescents remain responsible for their own actions and should be dealt with as such.

Further, the argument of irreversible psychological effects crumbles when considered logically. The punishment of solitary confinement impacts prisoners no matter their age, as effects do not suddenly cease to exist on one’s 18th birthday.

Worry regarding full mental recovery for juvenile prisoners who have earned solitary confinement for poor behavior aided in the passage of this law, though cognitive ramifications can manifest in offenders of all ages.

The prohibiting of solitary confinement appears to have neglected the notion that such harsh punishment is indeed earned through the conscious decisions of prisoners, juvenile and adult alike.

When an adolescent chooses to act with the responsibility of an adult, accountability for the proper consequences, whether good or bad, is indispensable. No doubt Obama’s new ruling undermines this pivotal ideal, thus allowing under-aged delinquents to escape deserved punishment for unacceptable choices.