Skip to main content

Solitary Confinement

This document provides clear and compelling support for the abolishment of solitary confinement with incarcerated youth and young adults in juvenile and adult correctional facilities.

Download PDF


Declaration of Principles

  • “Solitary confinement is an affront to the humanity and vulnerability of any child” (Human Rights Watch & ACLU, 2012, p. 75).
  • Consistent with the United Nations Human Rights Council, Interim Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Mendez, 2011), solitary confinement should be abolished, and while removal from the milieu may be necessary to maintain the safety of youth and staff, solitary confinement or seclusion should not be the remedy. The use of any such removal must never be used as punishment. Moreover, it should only be maintained until a youth is no longer an imminent physical threat to himself or herself or others or, in keeping with the First Step Act of 2018, never exceeds 3 hr under any circumstances.
  • Incarcerated youth have a right to uninterrupted education/special education services, career and technical training, mental health services, behavioral interventions and supports, physical activity, other rehabilitative activities, and opportunities to socialize with others, as well as regular contact with family.
  • Given current research on adolescent and young adult brain development, recommendations for policy and practice concerning solitary confinement must include youth and young adults up to the age of 25 years.



Policy Changes


  • Federal legislation is needed that clearly defines solitary confinement and its iterations (i.e., punitive, administrative, protective, medical). Without a single federal definition, there is the risk that there will be a rebranding or relabeling (e.g., separation, retreat) with no appreciable difference from the current attributes of solitary confinement (Birckhead, 2015).
  • Federal legislation is needed that clearly bans the solitary confinement of youth and young adults under the age of 25. Because the use of solitary confinement is a human rights issue, federal legislation should address the patchwork of state and local laws and facility policies that allow for varied practices and that include loopholes facilities rely on to maintain the practice (Basso, 2018; Lee, 2016). Moreover, consideration of current research on brain development necessitates that the policies address youth and young adults up to the age of 25.
  • Federal legislation should be written with the understanding that the current First Step Act of 2018 (P. L. 115-391, 2018), while a significant step forward, actually supplants solitary confinement with behavioral and mental health interventions and seclusion. It is important to recognize that seclusion should also be systematically discontinued, as it is a concerning practice that has the potential to seriously harm youth (see DEBH Position Statement on Seclusion and Restraint).
  • Privately run and local, regional, and state-operated JJFs need to create funding mechanisms that ensure adequate quality and numbers of general and special education teachers, psychology and counseling staff, medical professionals, security personnel, and transition specialists to ensure the provision of adequate services and that solitary confinement is not utilized out of desperation.
  • State-level requirements are needed to ensure the transparent collection and public dissemination of data on all behavioral incidences and punishments within JJF, as well as documentation of programs and procedures that support youth behavioral and mental health needs.
  • State and local oversight is needed to ensure JJFs are held accountable for devising and implementing a comprehensive plan for training all staff that come in contact with youth, including information related to disabilities, youth development and mental illness, behavior and cognitive-behavioral approaches, de-escalation skills, cultural competence, traumainformed approaches, and conflict-resolution skills (Fettig, 2017).
Last Updated:  28 September, 2023

© 2024 Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). All rights reserved.