Proposed Florida bill would eliminate solitary confinement for juveniles in prison system

File photo of a prison cell.
Posted at 4:02 PM, Oct 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-28 19:19:56-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-- Laurette Philipsen can sum up solitary confinement in a few words. “It is definitely torture.”

While serving eight years for fraud as an adult, she says she spent nearly a month in a room alone. No one to speak to. Food, delivered through a slot.

“After three, four days, your mind starts to play games with you," Philipsen said.

It’s an experience research shows can lead to depression, anxiety, even psychosis. Which is why some Florida legislators want to end solitary as a way to punish juveniles in the prison system.

Senator Bill Montford, a Democrat from Tallahassee, created SB 436.If approved— those under 19 could only be isolated for emergencies or medical reasons.

Florida would be the eighth state outlawing the practice. “We just got to use a little bit of common sense. We know the downsides of solitary confinement. Why take the chance for the youth?" Sen. Montford said.

Montford first pitched the policy late last session, which is why he thinks it failed. Now— with more time — the senator is optimistic his bill, or two like it, will get approval next session.

Philipsen’s experience has made her an advocate. She’s even helped create a replica cell for people to experience solitary for themselves. “After three minutes— imagine spending months, years— days." She added, “I hope the parties on both sides realize the importance of this.”

We reached out to both the Department of Corrections and Juvenile Justice for comment. Each referred us to the other, declining to say anything further.

Corrections has said in the past the department uses solitary confinement when "absolutely necessary" for security reasons or to manage prisons.