In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch released
a report documenting the experiences of young people under eighteen held in solitary confinement
in jails and prisons across the country.211 Although the report focused on youth in adult facilities,
many of the findings provided compelling evidence of the harm to young people caused by solitary
Even the United States Supreme Court had a word to say about solitary confinement. In
Davis v. Ayala, Justice Kennedy authored a concurring opinion, not about the legal questions in
the case,213 but about the practice of solitary confinement. Ayala, the defendant, had been held in
“administrative segregation for most of his 25 years in custody.”214 Newspapers all over the
country covered the opinion, reported the stories of people in solitary, and recounted the harms of
The suicide of Kalief Browder also came to epitomize the tragedy of youth solitary
confinement. Kalief, a sixteen-year-old youth, was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack.216
He spent three years at New York City’s infamous Rikers Island, including seventeen months in
solitary confinement.217 During that time, he tried to kill himself six times using strips of torn sheet
from his bed.218 His case was ultimately dismissed, but the experience of solitary confinement had
caused permanent damage to his already fragile mental state.219 His heartbreaking story and
subsequent suicide were widely covered in the media and sparked action not only by juvenile
justice advocates, but also by celebrities. The artist Jay-Z met Kalief before he died and later
produced a docuseries on his life, titled “Time: The Kalief Browder Story.”220 Jennifer
Gonnerman, The New Yorker journalist who initially wrote about Kalief, came across the story
when she read a lawsuit filed by his civil lawyer in 2013.221 She spoke of the importance of
covering such issues.
211 Growing Up Locked Down, supra note 8.
212 For example, the report found that that use of solitary confinement for adolescents compounds the stresses of being
in jail or prison—often for the first time—without family support; that it exacerbates mental disabilities and may
increase the risk of self-harm; that youth in solitary confinement are often denied physical exercise, adequate nutrition,
or the ability to go outside; and that they are often deprived of contact with their families, access to education,
programming, and other services necessary for their growth, development, and rehabilitation. Id. at 3-4.
213 Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. 2187, 2208-10 (2015) (Kennedy, J., concurring). In Davis, the question presented
involved a Batson challenge in a death penalty case where the prosecution dismissed all black and Hispanic people in
the venire from the jury.
214 Id. at 2208 (Kennedy, J., concurring).
215 See, e.g., Ian Keysel, Ban solitary confinement of children, TAMPA BAY TIMES (Nov. 6, 2012),
http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/ban-solitary-confinement-of-children/1260210; Perils of solitary
confinement even greater for young prisoners, BOS. GLOBE (Jan. 23, 2013); Too young for solitary, L.A. TIMES (May
12, 2013), http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/12/opinion/la-ed-solitary-confinement-juvenile-20130512.
216 Jennifer Gonnerman, Before the Law, THE NEW YORKER (Oct. 6, 2014),
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/06/before-the-law; see also Jennifer Gonnerman, Kalief Browder
1993-2015, THE NEW YORKER (June 7, 2015), https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/kalief-browder-1993-
220 Seth Kelley, Jay Z, Harvey Weinstein Talk ‘Unbelievably Due’ Kalief Browder Docuseries, VARIETY (Mar. 9,
221 Gary Gately, The Interview: New Yorker’s Jennifer Gonnerman on Rikers, JUV. JUST. INFO. EXCHANGE (Oct. 15,