This Is What Happens When We Lock Children in Solitary Confinement

January 26, 2015

One night in March 2013, a 17-year-old named Kenny was walking with a friend through farm country in Reilly Township, Ohio. The boys had been drinking and were checking car doors in the hope of finding a little money when they came across a pickup with keys in the ignition. They decided to take it for a spin.

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If you hadn't guessed by now, Kenny wasn't exactly thinking straight. He was just three weeks out of court-ordered rehab for marijuana possession and public intoxication, and his dad had just caught him stealing his anxiety medication. The pair drove a few miles to the home of Kenny's girlfriend, whose mother saw the purloined truck and called the cops. The boys bolted, spent the night in a shed, and the next night were arrested while partying at a frat house. A judge found Kenny guilty of receiving stolen property worth less than $7,500, a low-level felony. He deemed Kenny, who had some pot on him when he was caught, a "delinquent child," and sentenced him to six months at the juvenile correctional facility in Circleville.

But Kenny's sentence wound up being rougher than the judge had perhaps intended. While the Circleville facility's website boasts rehabilitative programs such as music, worship, woodworking, and education, he didn't have much of a chance to take advantage of them. Shortly after arriving, Kenny landed in solitary confinement for fighting. Over the next six months he spent nearly 82 days in the hole—locked in his own room or an isolation cell—once for 19 days at a stretch, according to court documents.

Read more about Kenny's story and the harmful affects of solitary confinement on Mother Jones.


Dana Liebelson