A federal review conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice found that Baltimore City Detention Center was illegally putting teens in psychologically damaging solitary confinement as they awaited trial for adult charges. One detainee was kept in solitary confinement for 143 days.
The report, released on Friday, found that in addition to a detainee identified as RC who was detained for 143 days, another detainee, EM, spent 53 of the 105 days spent in detention in solitary. Furthermore, the rules at the facility mandated that violators must spend 7 to 14 days for a first offense and must wait around 80 days for a disciplinary review.
The DOJ review found that though the detention center, put under federal review for previous civil rights violations, was still violating state and federal law by exceeding the limits for solitary confinement, failing to provide teens with drugs and other prescribed treatments, and some detainees were even denied the right to exercise. They also concluded that many of the staff were poorly trained.
“This is grossly excessive and violates basic principles of Due Process,” the Justice Department report read. “It is even more troubling for the 24 percent of juveniles in seclusion who are ultimately found not guilty under the disciplinary process.”
Solitary confinement — particularly when an inmate is subjected to it for more than a few days — is known to be psychologically damaging, and it is especially problematic to subject teens to this kind of punishment because their brains are still developing. A 2012 report released jointly by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, which interviewed youths subjected to the punishment, found it could be extremely damaging to their mental health and development. One former prisoner said, “It’s like mind torture.” Other former detainees described hair and weight loss, stunted growth, and halted menstruation.
The report also found that the decisions behind when and for how long to house inmates in solitary confinement were widely at the discretion of the facility staff. Sometimes staff would place LGBT inmates in solitary confinement to “protect” them from the risk of sexual assault.
ACLU and HRW concluded that inmates under the age of 18 are frequently subjected to solitary confinement for extended periods of time and “the conditions that accompany solitary confinement frequently fail to meet the psychological, physical, social, and developmental needs of adolescents. These failures constitute violations of fundamental rights in a number of circumstances.”
A 2011 United Nations report said that “the imposition of solitary confinement, of any duration, on juveniles is cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and violates article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and article 16 of the Convention against Torture.”
An editorial in the Washington Post last year pleaded with the state of Maryland to reform its solitary confinement practices, as New York City has recently done, writing, “Prisons should isolate inmates only in rare cases when that is the singular way to prevent violence. The General Assembly should ensure that Maryland abides by this principle, rather than hiding behind euphemisms.”