Solitary Watch’s recent portrait of “America’s Most Isolated Man”, illustrates a life that many juveniles know well. In contrast to the extremely violent inhabitants of ADX Supermax, more often than not, kids incarcerated in adult facilities are locked down and confined for “safety.” But regardless of the reasons, the psychological effects are the same. Kids in adult prisons are no strangers to what Tommy Silverstein reports as:
A slow constant peeling of the skin, stripping of the flesh, the nerve-wracking sound of water dripping from a leaky faucet in the still of the night while you’re trying to sleep. Drip, drip, drip, the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, constantly drip away with no end or relief in sight.
What is worse is that officers of the corrections system seem to want to reinforce the idea that solitary confinement is “a clean version of hell.” Is that “clean version of hell” somewhere that kids truly belong? Kids aren’t psychologically equipped to deal with that isolation. Despite repeated indications that Robert Borrego Jr., 17, was suicidal, the decision was still made to send the teen to an adult facility to await trial as an adult. Borrego committed suicide in “segregation” on June 15, 2009.
The problem is that Borrego’s case isn’t isolated. According to a fact sheet by the Campaign for Youth Justice (CYJ), a 17 year old boy named James Stewart suffocated himself in the Denver County Jail after being placed in isolation on an adult vehicular homicide charge. Another report by CYJ shows that teens in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than when housed in a juvenile facility.
The bottom line: An adult charge shouldn’t be a death sentence, but isolation makes it 36 times more likely to become one. It’s time to Stop Direct File and let judges do what they clearly do better than District Attorneys: Use discretion.