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By: Elias J. Atienza
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) have teamed once more to reintroduce legislation on criminal justice reform. The bill, which is mostly a rehash of the one introduced in the last Congress by Booker, would restrict the use of solitary confinement for juveniles except in limited cases.
Former President Barrack Obama first initiated widespread changes in federal prisons for solitary confinement after the Justice Department recommended it, affecting some 10,000 prisons. However, it is not permanent, which is why the Paul and Booker are reintroducing the bill in order to ensure that the changes remain.
Both Paul and Obama have referred to the story of Kalief Browder, a young black man who had been sent to Rikker’s Island and spent three years in prison after allegedly stealing a backpack. He was charged with second degree robbery and spent most of his time in solitary confinement. He never had a trial.
However, all charges were dropped and he was released. He committed suicide in June of 2015, most likely due to the conditions of his detention. His case has been cited for criminal justice reform, especially solitary confinement.
The bill currently has four other cosponsors, Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Richard Durbin (D-IL), James Lankford (R-OK), and Robert Casey (D-PA).
It is unknown what President Donald Trump’s position is on solitary confinement. However, due to his administration’s position on criminal justice reform is not wholly positive towards it, he might overturn Obama’s executive orders on solitary confinement within federal prisons. Hence the bill.
As Jean Cassella and James Ridgeway write in Solitary Watch:
“Trump has long denounced what he calls “criminals’ rights.” And more broadly, since the widespread use of solitary confinement is driven by mass incarceration, Trump’s general law-and-order stance, which is inhospitable to such moves as sentencing reform, could add to the federal prison population. Sessions, who has a track record on these issues–he virulently opposed recent bipartisan efforts at sentencing reform and wrongly believes that crime is skyrocketing–will certainly have Trump’s back.”