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Friday, January 3, 2014

DC’s Youth Face Solitary Confinement in District Jails

DC’s Youth Face Solitary Confinement in District Jails and Federal Prisons by Abby Taskier Just east of Capitol Hill, on 19th Street between D and E streets, lies a complex of reddish brown concrete buildings. These are the District of Columbia’s jail facilities – the Central Detention Facility (CDF) and The Central Treatment Facility (CTF). Along with some 2,000 adults, these buildings house children under the age of 18 who have been charged as adults. For Michael Kemp and Alisha Carrington, both of whom were sent to the DC jails at the age of 16, doing time here meant being locked down 23 hours a day, alone, in small, barren cells. Like many other youth in adult jails, Michael and Alisha were isolated as a form of “protection” against other prisoners. This was administered in the form of solitary confinement, which Alisha and Michael endured for months. Prison isolation lasting more than a few weeks has been shown to cause serious, and sometimes permanent, psychological damage in adults. For youth, the effects are believed to be even more severe. In his 2012 report Growing up Locked Down, published by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, Ian Kysel writes: “Experts assert that young people are psychologically unable to handle solitary confinement with the resilience of an adult. And, because they are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow.” In Washington, DC, as in many other jail systems, the law demands that kids charged as adults be housed away from the general population to ensure the children's safety. According to DC Department of Corrections spokesperson Sylvia Lane, “juveniles being adjudicated as adults, remanded to the custody of the DC Department of Corrections (DCDOC) are housed in a dedicated unit within the Correctional Treatment Facility." Since 1997, CTF has been privately run under a 20-year contract with the giant Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). "They are kept out of the ‘sight and sound’ of the adult population.” In practice, this "safety" measure often amounts to near-complete isolation. The Campaign for Youth Justice’s (CYJ) 2007 report on youth in DC's adult criminal justice system states that “in a recent visit to the DC Jail, facility staff indicated that 14 of the 42 youth currently held in the jail are on administrative segregation, which means that they can spend as much as 23.5 hours a day, for 30 days at a time, in a segregated cell.” "Just Living in Steel and Concrete" The CYJ report also states: "One young woman [was] held in DC Jail since August 2006, and since there is no separate wing for juvenile female offenders, she was spending 23 hours a day locked in her cell.” The young woman from the report is Alisha Carrington. Alisha first entered into the juvenile justice system when she was 13 years old. She was arrested again in 2006, and her case drew attention because it “marked the first time in recent memory in the District that a girl was charged as an adult with murder,” according to the Washington Post. When I meet her for an interview, Alisha sits behind a table in a small classroom situated inside of the DC Church of the Pilgrims on P Street. Recalling the reason for her arrest in 2006, Alisha says, “I was coming home real late after sneaking out to a party.” She pauses. “A neighbor had grabbed me into his home, and I stabbed him.” Due to the violent nature of her crime, Alisha was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, and sent to the DC jail system to await trial. Alisha’s attorneys argued that she should be moved to a secure psychiatric facility, citing her mental health problems. A DC Superior Court judge said that the city was probably violating federal law by housing her in solitary. “Quite frankly, I think it’s barbaric…I think it’s barbaric to keep someone in that kind of condition, given her age,” Judge Wendell P. Gardner Jr. stated. But he also said that he lacked the authority to remove her. Housed in isolation for several months at CTF, Alisha says that her cell “was the size of your bathroom, maybe, if that. [There was] a bunk bed, a steel toilet, and a desk.” Being the only juvenile female in CTF at the time, Alisha had no medium for human contact or programming. In order to get her access to even one book, Alisha’s lawyer had to plead with the court. Michael Kemp, first incarcerated at the age of 12, was charged as an adult in 2007, also at the age of 16. Charged with robbery, Michael was housed at the Central Detention Facility, the government-owned DC Jail facility, which up until recently also housed juvenile males charged as adults. Now they are held in the juvenile unit at CTF. He says that his cell was “4 by 9, or 6 by 9…Basically you live in a bathroom, not a mansion bathroom, but a regular house sized bathroom. And a steel bed and a steel desk. Just living in steel and concrete.” Michael was put into solitary, without access to programming or any general facilities for 6 months because he “was on special handling.” The CYJ report states: “Youth on protective custody are also segregated from the rest of the juvenile population and may face the same constraints as those on administrative segregation.”

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