7. Isolating Juveniles May Correlate with a Higher Risk of Self-Harm or Suicide
Controlling for length of stay, serious mental illness, age and race/ethnicity, the study
found that the most significant predictor for self-harm was isolation in solitary confinement.114
Individuals with serious mental illness and those who were under the age of eighteen also rated
higher for the incidence of self-harm, but greater risk for self-harm and fatal self-harm correlated
with isolation independent of these two characteristics.115 Most notably, the results indicate that
the majority of self-harm incidents were committed by a small proportion of individuals: those
held in isolation who were under the age of eighteen and seriously mentally ill.116 The results of
this study call for changes in policies and procedures, which would eliminate the use of isolation
as punishment in jails, particularly for those who are seriously mentally ill or for youth.117
Isolating juveniles may also correlate with an increased the risk of suicide.118 Between
1995 and 1999, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention conducted the first
national survey of suicides in public and private juvenile facilities.119 The study found that fifty
percent of youth who committed suicide were in isolation at the time of their suicide; sixty-two
percent had previously been in isolation.120
Additionally, youth with pre-existing mental illnesses are not the only ones at risk of
suicide.121 The sheer boredom caused by isolation can “be a dangerous condition in a juvenile
institution, because mental and physical inactivity increases frustration and depression in
youth.”122 Because “an adolescent’s mood can swing quickly from a ‘normal’ emotional state to
suicidal,” even as a reaction to an event that is seemingly minor, “[a]ny change in a youth’s
psychosocial or emotional state may trigger suicidal thoughts or actions.”123 Thus, the high
correlation between suicide and the use of isolation suggests that this practice is innately risky for
institutions that house adolescents.
8. Isolating Youth May Deny Them Necessary and/or Required Services
Youth in isolation are frequently denied the level of education or other services to which
they are entitled.124 In addition, the mental health care provided for isolated juveniles is
111 Fatos Kaba, et al., Solitary Confinement and Risk of Self-Harm Among Jail Inmates, 104 AM. J. PUB. HEALTH 442, 442 (2014).
114 Id. at 445. The authors of the study note that “[ i]nmates punished by solitary confinement were approximately 6.9 times as likely to
commit acts of self-harm after we controlled for the length of jail stay, SMI, age, and race/ethnicity. This association also held true for
potentially fatal self-harm with a slightly lower OR, 6.3.” Id.
117 Id. at 447.
118 LINDSAY M. HAYES, NAT’L CTR. ON INSTS. & ALTS., JUVENILE SUICIDE IN CONFINEMENT: A NATIONAL SURVEY ix-x (2004),
119 Id. at ix.
120 Id. at x.
124 See, e.g., Letter from Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Att’y Gen., to Mitch Daniels, Governor of Ind. 34-42 (Jan. 29, 2010) [hereinafter
Letter to Governor of Ind.], available at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/spl/documents/Indianapolis_findlet_01-29-10.pdf