NC STATE AGENGY’S NEW POLICY LIMITS SOLITARY FOR KIDS IN ADULT PRISONS
North Carolina is the only state that automatically charges 16 and 17 year old youth as adults. On June 15, 2016, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced plans to end the practice of putting youth under the age of 18 in solitary confinement by September 2016, citing the devastating harms of solitary confinement. In North Carolina, the DPS’s Division of Adult Corrections and Juvenile Justice oversees the adult and juvenile justice prison system. In 2015, a coalition of human rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina School of Law Human Rights Policy Lab, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and NC Stop Torture Now sent a letter asking the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in North Carolina prisons. Click here to read more on the DPS announcement.
Under the a new program being implemented by DPS, youth in modified housing should be out of their rooms for 45 hours per week for programming. Unfortunately, this still leaves a fair number of waking hours unaddressed. In our experience, the best policies limit isolation far more strictly and encourage facilities to keep youth involved in programming as many hours as possible per day.
In April 2017, the Vera Institute of Justice released a report on the use of solitary in DPS facilities. In 2015, with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, DPS partnered with the Vera Institute of Justice as part of Vera’s national Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative to reduce its reliance on solitary confinement. North Carolina was one of five corrections systems selected to participate in the initiative, which will later include up to five additional systems. While Vera notes that North Carolina has taken steps to reduce solitary, including in programs for youth under the age of eighteen, the Report highlights serious concerns, including racial and ethnic disparities in the use of solitary. Read the report’s section on youthful offenders.
ADULT COUNTY JAILS STILL PUT KIDS IN SOLITARY
Unfortunately, some county jails are still keeping sixteen and seventeen year old in solitary confinement for long periods of time, often for minor offenses. After series of articles in the Charlotte Observer focused on the practice in Mecklenburg Count’s Jail North, the North Carolina NAACP president Rev. Dr. William Barber called for an investigation. On March 8, 2017 another Observer article featured a report from the ACLU of North Carolina that showed high rates of solitary for youth, especially youth of color.
RAISE THE AGE LEGISLATION IN NORTH CAROLINA
Lawmakers in North Carolina are considering legislation to raise the age of jurisdiction, preventing kids from being held in adult jails. New York State raised the age of jurisdiction in April 2017, leaving North Carolina as the only state to charge youth as adults despite data and science showing that the practice is harmful. The Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act, or HB 280, proposes to raise the age of jurisdiction for sixteen and seventeen year olds unless they are charged with a violent felony.