Dear Senator Wyden:
"One of the best tests of whether we are truly a civilized people is the temper and mood of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals." - Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill's basic sentiment of human dignity still rings true today in the discussion regarding the use of solitary confinement in this country. The United States is in a position to determine whether we will continue to support a dysfunctional system that socially and mentally compromises juvenile offenders, or is it possible to recommit ourselves to a system that rehabilitates individuals in an effort to put offenders on a path toward reentering society as productive citizens?
The National Commission on Correctional Health Care has defined prolonged use of isolated punishment as "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and harmful to an individual's health." While extreme circumstances may necessitate the isolation of an inmate, solitary confinement is used far too frequently across the nation. It should only be used as a last resort, and even then with appropriate supervision, oversight, and transparency.
Perhaps the most daunting truth of solitary confinement is that the Federal government does not have a reporting system on its use. Without any transparency into our actual usage of solitary confinement, it is extremely difficult to craft and implement viable solutions.
Although there is only limited data, it is estimated that one-third of all prisoners in solitary confinement suffer from a mental illness. The majority of these inmates will one day reenter society without receiving appropriate treatment, making their reentry more difficult for themselves and their community. This makes our inability to rehabilitate offenders a direct threat to public safety. Given the detrimental physical and mental effects solitary confinement has on adults, we simply cannot allow our children to be subject to this torture.
In response to this growing public safety issue, Senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul, James Lankford, and Cory Booker introduced Senate Bill 329, the MERCY Act. This bipartisan legislation would place restrictions on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in Federal custody. Conservatives believe in fostering human dignity, fiscal responsibility, and rehabilitation in the criminal justice system. By reducing the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, the United States can achieve better public safety results, and lower recidivism rates, all while saving taxpayer money. If we want to show that we are a "truly civilized people", Senate Bill 329 is a good place to start.