Committee: Senate Judicial Proceedings
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 774. The Catholic Conference represents the public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
Senate Bill 774 requires reporting on the use of restrictive housing, otherwise known as “solitary confinement”, on youth detained in Maryland’s juvenile justice system. The bill also places limitations on the restrictive housing for youth detainees. It would ensure that proper sanitary conditions, visitation, nutrition and educational opportunities are given to those who are subjected to solitary confinement in certain circumstances.
Pope Francis has equated punishment involving external isolation to a form of “torture”. He denoted that states should not be “allowed, juridically or in fact, to subordinate respect for the dignity of the human person to any other purpose, even should it serve some sort of social utility.” (Address of Pope Francis to the Delegates of the International Association of Penal Law, October, 2014) In addition to violating personal dignity, solitary confinement has been shown to cause a variety of physical ailments. In the aforementioned address, Pope Francis also noted, “As shown by studies carried out by various human rights organizations, the lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and significantly increase the suicidal tendency.”
Although the Conference maintains that solitary confinement should not be utilized in general, employing such measures on juvenile detainees as if they were fully-formed adult is unjust to an even greater extent. In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), the United States Supreme Court specifically noted that youthful offenders possessed “diminished capacity” and the inability to fully appreciate the risks and consequences of their actions.
Our state must defend the dignity of vulnerable youth who are detained in juvenile facilities. While measures have been taken to strengthen protections for detained youth in recent years, signaling a movement in the right direction, still more can be done. Restricting the use of solitary confinement for juvenile detainees, as well as providing information on its usage, are the next logical steps. We thus urge a favorable report for Senate Bill 774.