In my former career as a probation and parole officer, several events completely changed how I viewed my job. One such event occurred when I was a juvenile probation and parole officer. There was a correctional officer shortage at Bridge City Center for Youth near New Orleans. As a juvenile officer, we were required to work 12-hour shifts at the facility to relieve the overburdened officers. During my first day of filling in, I thought the 12-hour shift would never end. I was shocked at what I experienced. It only took 12 hours for me to realize how important my job was as a probation officer. From that day forward, my focus was to do whatever I could to keep a child from coming to place like Bridge City, or any juvenile detention center.
During the 2019 Legislative Session, I was present for the committee hearing on SR 133 sponsored by Senator Ryan Gatti. This resolution requested to study all aspects of solitary confinement—including abolishment in juvenile facilities– and the implementation of mental health evaluations prior to solitary confinement. A few months prior to the session, two juveniles, ages 17 and 13, committed suicide at Ware Youth Detention Center within days of each other while in solitary confinement. The resolution also addressed the mental health consequences of solitary confinement, a critical issue. A study in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law noted, “The stress, lack of meaningful social contact, and unstructured days can exacerbate symptoms of illness or provoke recurrence. Suicides occur disproportionately more often in segregation units than elsewhere in prison.”
As I listened to the testimony of the parents of the 13-year-old boy, my experience at Bridge City began to flood my memory. Almost every person in the room was fixed on the father of this child as he tearfully recounted the events that led to his son’s incarceration. The effects of solitary confinement do not end inside the facility, but continue post release.
Concerns surrounding solitary confinement is not limited to juvenile corrections, but extend to adult corrections as well. In adult institutions, studies have shown that solitary confinement can endanger public safety. A study conducted in Washington State showed that inmates released directly from solitary confinement reoffended at a rate of 35% more than those released from general population with the same risk profile. States like Mississippi and Maine have shown that solitary confinement can be safely reduced. In 2007, Mississippi reduced its use of solitary confinement. This downsizing resulted in a $6 million savings to taxpayers along with reductions in violence and recidivism rates. In 2011, Maine reduced the use of solitary confinement and saw a substantial reduction in violence and use of force. It is expected that the study into the use of solitary confinement in Louisiana will be completed prior to the start of the 2020 Session in March. I look forward to the results of the study, and I trust this study will result in the implementation of reforms in both our juvenile and adult facilities.