President Obama banned solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons on Monday and adopted recommendations to modify the use of the practice for adult prisoners.
The president announced the reforms in an op-ed in the Washington Post.
"The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance," he wrote. "Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society."
Obama invoked the fate of Kalief Browder, who was arrested at age 16 and spent roughly two years in solitary confinement at New York's Rikers Island prison. Browder was never convicted of a crime, and after his release, he and his family spoke of his struggles with mental health. In June, he killed himself at age 22.
"Today, [solitary confinement is] increasingly overused on people such as Kalief, with heartbreaking results — which is why my administration is taking steps to address this problem," Obama wrote.
The Department of Justice began a review of restrictive housing in federal prisons at the president's request a month after Browder's death.
"After extensive study, we have concluded that there are occasions when correctional officials have no choice but to segregate inmates from the general population, typically when it is the only way to ensure the safety of inmates, staff, and the public," the department's final report said. "But as a matter of policy, we believe strongly this practice should be used rarely, applied fairly, and subjected to reasonable constraints."
The practice should never be used as a default solution, and never for juveniles, the report added.
In addition to banning the use of solitary confinement for juvenile prisoners, Obama said treatment would be expanded for mentally ill inmates and the time adults in solitary confinement could spend outside their cells would be increased.
Obama said the changes would affect about 10,000 federal inmates. He added that he hoped the federal standards would become a model for state and local corrections systems.
"How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people?" he asked. "It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity."