Nebraska’s solitary confinement policies harmful

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Photo Courtesy of

Jaime Donovan

Sam Mandez was 14 years old when he was accused of killing Frida Winter on July 26, 1993. A botched investigation followed, where the only evidence found linking Mandez to the crime were his fingerprints on a window of Winter’s house.

He claimed that he had only been in that house when he painted it with his grandfather. The jury felt conflicted over the evidence, but forced into making the decision to convict him, sentencing Mandez to a life in prison.

Mandez ended up in solitary confinement for small things, like making a three way phone call he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to make. He remained there for the majority of his prison sentence. Before heading to prison he was a normal, healthy young man. After years of solitary confinement, he slowly developed severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia.

He actually thinks he’s married to Dog the Bounty Hunter’s daughter and that he’s a Green Beret. Several psychiatrists have had their chance to examine him over the years and they all conclude that he suffers from various mental illnesses. The Colorado system prison is refusing to treat him correctly.

Studies have been done since the 1970s on solitary confinement and their results are pretty consistent. The studies reveal severe psychological problems in both healthy and mentally ill people as a result of the practice.

Solitary confinement even increases recidivism. I thought the point of prison was to rehabilitate people? If adults can’t handle solitary confinement then how do we expect minors to handle it? How are minors supposed to handlife life after leaving prison and solitary confinement?

President Obama, in a recent oped for The Washington Post, references the case of Kalief Browder, who was accused of stealing a backpack as a 16-year-old in 2010. He never stood trial and he suffered abuse under the inmates and guards in addition to spending two years in solitary confinement.

After leaving prison he enrolled at a community college and did very well there, but it was a constant struggle to lead a normal life. He committed suicide at 22. There must be another answer besides solitary confinement.

It’s troubling that Nebraska has some of the harshest solitary confinement policies for juvenile offenders in the nation. In other states, solitary confinement for juveniles can last anywhere from 24 hours to five days. In Nebraska it can be anywhere from five to ninety days. Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, and Arkansas like to limit juveniles to five days or less in solitary confinement. States like Maine, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Nevada took progressive action to limit solitary confinement for juveniles.

The ACLU found out that it takes about $78,000 per year to keep a person in solitary confinement. Wouldn’t this money be better served elsewhere? It could be better spent educating and rehabilitating an inmate so that once they leave prison they can become a respectable member of society.

I would have loved to have seen Kalief Browder do probation or serve back his time to society in another way. I would have been okay with him serving time in juvenile prison for a little bit.

Keeping him in solitary confinement as a juvenile didn’t do him any favors. He could have been an accountant, a graphic designer, a nurse, or a member of the Peace Corps and given back to society in a more healthy and fulfilling way.

He could have volunteered on his free time at a Boys and Girls Club and warned other minors of the dangers of prison and committing crimes.

He could have turned away future criminals from a life of crime before they were forced to make a choice, but due to the effects of solitary confinement we’ll never know what his potential could have been