New rules will make federal prisons safer

Bailey Kish

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Following an executive action passed on Jan. 25, juvenile inmates in federal prisons can no longer be placed in solitary confinement in federal prisons.

The executive order also places limits on how solitary confinement can be used in adult cases. This order follows the recommendations of an internal review of solitary confinement by the Justice Department, concluding an audit that began last July.

Prisons are now banned from punishing “low-level offenses” with restricted housing, and the maximum time an inmate can be placed in custody for a first offense has shrunk from 365 days to 60.

Last summer, President Obama asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. After a six month audit on the practice, its uses and its effects, the Justice Department released a report outlining new ways solitary confinement should be handled in federal prisons. The report is based around 50 “Guiding Principles,” which are intended as future policies for federal prisons.

These Guiding Principles lay out new rules for the use of restrictive housing in federal prisons, stating inmates should be placed in the least restrictive setting possible and prisons must provide clear reasons for their placement in solitary, as well as creating a step-by-step plan to return an inmate to the general prison population.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Obama cited research showing that extended periods of solitary confinement lead to severe psychological consequences. Studies found that the practice is linked to depression and alienation, potentially leading to violent tendencies. Worse, this may exacerbate existing mental illnesses or even create new psychological effects.

Spending 23 hours a day all alone in a small cell is not endurable without negative effects to the individual. The approximately 10,000 general population inmates in federal prison will undoubtedly be better off because of these new measures.

However, I must admit a slippery slope looms in the distance. This is President Obama’s third major executive order, the first being his reform of the immigration system, and the second being his new gun law order. While excited for the new policies, it is troubling that both were not voted on by the legislative body of the country but rather released as law by one man. This congress is the least productive of all time, and so I fully understand why these orders were released. Nevertheless, it sets a dangerous precedent for a new level of imperial presidency

Obama said it best in his op-ed when he said “The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance.”

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