The National Council of Churches applauds President Obama’s order banning the use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in the federal prison system. This ban comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s ruling that its 2012 decision banning mandatory life sentences for juveniles can be retroactively applied. We are particularly excited about this steady movement of reform that impacts juveniles and see these decisions as important steps toward creating a more humane and moral criminal justice system.
“This gives us great hope in our efforts to transform the broken criminal justice system from one focused on punishment and retribution to one focused on rehabilitation and restoration,” said Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Associate General Secretary for Action and Advocacy for Justice and Peace.
While we welcome the new restrictions of the use of solitary confinement to 60 days (down from a previous limit of 365 days), we believe this is still too long. Any use of solitary confinement is abhorrent. The United Nations recognizes solitary confinement in excess of 15 days as torture.
Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, recently stated that, “Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles.”
We ask that the states swiftly follow the federal government’s lead. We call upon all states to ban the use of solitary confinement on all prisoners, especially juveniles. We urge our church members and all US citizens of goodwill to work in their local settings in order to get this accomplished. For resources on how to do this, please see the website of one of our valued partners, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
We also urge churches to join in prayer for the thousands still suffering in solitary confinement. This prayer was offered by Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, at a conference in February, 2014:
Ruler of the night, Guarantor of the Day, we gather before Thee to witness on behalf of sisters and brothers living tortured lives of solitary confinement, mostly without human contact. We beseech Thee to be with them during their sleeping and during their waking that they may know Thy peace and comfort, that they may somehow find Thy holiness in the hell-holes called solitary confinement.
“We have been commanded by Thee to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and visit the prisoners. Require us not to take these responsibilities lightly. We seek thy strength as we struggle to free the oppressed.
“Give us new visions of people freed from silence and solitariness, give us strength and courage beyond committees, hearings and memos, beyond calls and appointments, beyond frazzled expectations. Turn us toward the light as we pray for those who live in the darkness of despair.
“Today we submit our ways to Thee, the One who promises the way and the truth and the life. Grant us courage and strength as we fight for justice.
“We pray in the name of all that is holy. Amen.”