Declaration follows testimony from Minneapolis youth
After hearing testimony Tuesday from formerly incarcerated Black youth in Minneapolis — and earlier in other cities — UN-appointed experts today called for an end to solitary confinement for children.
“The practice of solitary confinement is torture — is psychological torture,” Juan Mendez, a professor of human rights law in residence at the American University-Washington College of Law, said at a press conference today. “It contributes to the acuity of the mental health crisis in the criminal justice system across the country.”
The UN investigative body, the Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice, confirmed a “generalized practice of solitary confinement” in the country after a two-week tour examining racial justice and police violence in American cities.
“It is estimated that over 80,000 prisoners are held in isolated confinement in the United States at any given day,” Mendez said. “The Mechanism is especially alarmed as the practice is reported to also apply to juveniles held in super maximum facilities with dramatic effects on their mental health, sometimes leading to suicides.”
UN-appointed experts Mendez and Tracie Keesee, senior vice president of Justice Initiatives of the Center For Policing Equity, shared their preliminary findings in Washington, D.C., after the tour, calling on the U.S. government to boost efforts to promote accountability for police violence.
In Minneapolis, formerly incarcerated Black people described on Tuesday the devastating impact of solitary confinement they experienced as children that left them with lifelong trauma.
Minnesota’s juvenile lockups have ordered kids into solitary confinement for 24 hours or longer more than 7,500 times in the last five years, according to data obtained by the local television station KARE 11.
The practice disproportionately impacts Black and Indigenous Minnesotans, who make up nearly 60% of people sent to solitary confinement in the state, according to a 2019 report from the Department of Corrections to the Minnesota Legislature.
The UN has long condemned the practice of solitary confinement for children as a form of torture.
“We heard a lot of testimony around children’s services and this pervasiveness of specifically separating Black children, children of African descent, away from families,” Keesee said.
The UN effort, which was established to “further transformative change for racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement for Africans and people of African descent,” has a clear intersection with the child welfare system and the separation of families, Mendez said.
“When this separation is enforced by law enforcement, it falls directly under our mandate, even if it’s ordered by a different agency,” he said.
The Mechanism will draft a full report to be published in coming months and presented to the UN Human Rights Council.