Thousands of teens are being punished — by being locked in a box.
A room 10 feet by 7 feet. No human contact for months. How does this do teenagers any good?
In March 2014, Reveal, one of the websites of the Center for Investigative Reporting, did some investigating into the treatment of teenagers imprisoned on New York City's Rikers Island.
And what they found was pretty shocking: Teenagers were regularly put into solitary confinement.
"At any given time, about 100 teenagers are housed in solitary confinement at Rikers Island. ... Every day, thousands of teenagers around the U.S. are held in solitary confinement, but no one knows for sure how many. That's because the federal government does not require prisons, jails, and juvenile halls to report the number of young people they put in isolation or how long they keep them there." — Reveal
Reveal spoke with a teenager, Ismael "Izzy" Nazario, who throughout his time at Rikers Island spent a total of 300 days in solitary.
That's right, 300 days.
So teenagers — young people in their most formative years — are essentially being locked in a box.
A 10-by-7 room. They have no human contact. Just a toilet, a sink, and a bunk. Food comes in through a slot in the door. They might go on like this for six months.
Imagine how someone might react after days in that condition. Well, you don't have to imagine. Reports show evidence of young people pounding the walls, screaming, hallucinating, self-harming, and attempting, and committing, suicide.
Many people were outraged by what CIR found and by Izzy's story, like Gabriel Cortez, an incredibly talented slam poet. Cortez believes that solitary confinement is a form of torture and that youth should instead be receiving the support they deserve.
Through art, writing, and good old-fashioned protest, he spoke out.
"But what room is there for growth in a cell with barely enough room to stand? What room is there for therapy and rehabilitation when trauma is promised 23 hours a day?"
— Gabriel Cortez
Check out his amazing video here. Heads up for some disturbing visuals.
The good news? As a result of the findings, Rikers Island will no longer place individuals below the age of 21 in solitary confinement.
But there's more work to be done.
Want to get other cities and states on board with protecting more young folks from this treatment?
You can. You have many options: from helping fund nonprofits like the National Juvenile Defender Center, to using ACLU's advocacy toolkits from its Stop Solitary campaign to organize in your region. You can also sign ACLU's petition to the Attorney General demanding an end to youth solitary confinement.