TODAY   |  March 22, 2013

‘Devastating consequences’ for minors in solitary

NBC’s Ted Koppel investigates the effects of solitary confinement on some of the country’s youngest and most vulnerable prisoners, some as young as 9 years old. He speaks with one former juvenile prisoner who calls it “the worst thing I ever went through.”

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> according to the department of justice , there are roughly 100,000 juveniles locked up in adult jails and prisons in this country. nbc's ted koppel investigated what happens to those young people when they're sent time with adult criminals and often placed in solitary confinement for their own age.

>> precisely because they are vulnerable they're always segregated from the adults but sometimes they're placed in solitary confinement . we found that isolation has devastating consequences. i spoke to a young man who says he served most of his time in prison in the hole. when kevin due month was 15, he ended up in adult prison for an attempted armed robbery he committed when he was 13. kevin is bipolar, so it didn't help that he spent much of his time in solitary confinement . sometimes he would lash out. the helmet, the restraints were to keep kevin from smashing his head against the walls of his cell. on a couple of occasions kevin was stripped to his shorts and hog tied for 12 hours. can you show me?

>> well, they take belly chains and put them around here, around your waist, take leg irons and put them around both and have you kneel on the bench or bed and connect the change between the back of here down to here so you're stuck to where you can't stand up straight. you have to walk around on your knees within your cell so you can't stand up at all, couldn't use the bathroom and the toilet, that's where you're stuck.

>> reporter: that's got to be very painful.

>> it's the worst thing i ever went through.

>> reporter: solitary is a place of punishment, where they put the most violent prisoners. ironically, it's also a place of security for the most vulnerable, informers, ex-cops, kids. first impression? especially on a day like this when you got the sunlight streaming in through the window, not that bad, you got a bunk, a desk, a toilet, wash basin , but it's three steps across the cell, six steps the length of it. that's your world, the entirety of it. 23 hours a day, day after day , week after week, month after month. that's what starts to work on your mind. how much time do you estimate that you spent in your cell?

>> on the weekends, it was usually the whole 48, but on average i'd say 22 hours a day in my cell.

>> reporter: did anyone ever explain to you why you were kept in that cell 22 hours a day?

>> yes, this he told me for my protection.

>> ted, is this happening simply because within our system there is no other place to put these juveniles?

>> it's happening because our system is way overloaded. we have 2.5 million people in prison, over 100,000 youngsters in adult prisons and jails, and to keep them secure, sometimes the only thing they can do is put them in solitary, which frequently drives them crazy.

>> and they're young but also in many cases sufrl from mental illness as well.

>> some kids as young as 9 years old.

>> all right, ted, thank you very much. you can see more of ted's report that's tonight on "rock center with brian williams " at 10:00 :9:00 central