Under the Dome

Disability group seeks ban on youth solitary confinement in N.C. prisons; top state official agrees

Disablity Rights N.C. on Tuesday renewed its call for state prison officials to ban solitary confinement for young prisoners, following President Barack Obama’s federal prison ban on Monday. The top state prison official said he agrees, and is working toward that goal.

“These are young people who need help, and solitary confinement does the opposite, causing long-lasting psychological harm,” Vicki Smith, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “Paranoia, hallucinations, difficulties with impulse control, depression, aggression, even suicidal ideation … the science shows isolation contributes to mental illness. It’s simply not right to subject struggling youth to this abusive practice,” said Vicki Smith, Executive Director of Disability Rights NC.

The organization says its spot checks indicate 21 to 38 percent of the 16- to 17-year-old prisoners in North Carolina are in restrictive housing. It called for more physical exercise and mental health assessments.

David Guice, commissioner of adult correction and juvenile justice, issued this response on Tuesday evening:

“I believe that we should end restrictive housing for youth sentenced to our state’s adult prison system. We are already working on a path to accomplish that goal and to reduce the use of restrictive housing for all inmate age groups.

“In August, the state’s juvenile justice system adopted a policy that effectively ended segregated housing for juveniles in the state’s youth development centers. Using that as a basis, the adult prison system is currently working to develop a similar policy, eliminating segregation for the fewer than 70 inmates ages 16 and 17 who were sentenced as adults and housed in the adult prison system.

“Change like this requires policy development, a cultural shift, staff training and input from advocates and stakeholders. We have been at the table with representatives from Disability Rights, the ACLU, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services and other groups through this process and they have been providing input. We are also receiving technical assistance from the Vera Institute of Justice through its Safe Alternatives to Segregation project. I am pushing this forward without delay, while also taking care to make sure we get it right, keeping our inmates, staff and the public safe.”