Students crowd around the makeshift “cell” as Megan Secarda, a third-year in psychology, waits to enter and sit in silence for the next hour, but the sentence for a child imprisoned in the United States lasts much longer.
There were almost 71,000 juveniles incarcerated in 2010, according to a Department of Justice report.
The Ohio State chapter of the Student Alliance for Prison Reform held a 24-hour public performance from Monday to Tuesday on the West Pavilion of the Ohio Union to protest juvenile solitary confinement.
OSU’s SAPR chapter is one of 12 national chapters participating in the 7×9 Solitary Confinement Protest throughout the month of October.
7×9 (feet) represents the dimension of of a solitary confinement cell. Juveniles in Ohio correctional facilities spent an accumulative 229,000 hours in isolation, with more than 50 percent of juveniles committing suicide in correctional facilities while they were in solitary confinement, according to SAPR.
SAPR chapters across the nation are teaming up with Fusion, a media conglomerate with a focus on social justice, to collect signatures to petition the White House to stop the solitary confinement of juveniles.
Hallie Israel, a third-year in neuroscience and criminology and president of OSU’s SAPR, said prison reform is her passion.
“I hope that the display forces people to visually and spatially confront the issue, and then allows them to inform and educate themselves and sign our petition,” she said.
7×9, SAPR’s annual performance art exhibit aims to call attention to juveniles, as young as 13 years old, who are locked in solitary confinement.
A student sat in a 7-by-9-foot space, outlined in electrical tape, to symbolize a prison cell. The students sat in the cell with no books, music, and outside interaction, attempting to mimic prisoners’ lives in solitary confinement.
“I just thought about the kids who have to do that and I felt lucky just because I knew I had the choice to leave and live normally again,” said Kati Donahue, a second-year in fashion and retail studies who also participated in the protest.
In the last hour of the performance, the “cell” is left empty to represent the time that the prisoners are allowed to shower, exercise and call their families.
The demonstration attracted the attention of many students who stopped by to read the statistics printed on posters around the cell.
“The statistics are shocking,” said Nick Prayner, a second-year in marketing. “I think I am somewhat well-versed in social justice, but I didn’t even scrape the surface of prison reform.”
“When you consider that 95 percent of the kids in our federal justice system are going to eventually be restored members of our society,” Israel said. “If putting them in solitary and actively diminishing their capacity to succeed, we, as a justice system, are not doing our job.”
Through her major and involvement with SAPR, Israel said she hopes to study how juveniles are affected by solitary confinement.
“I want to help determine behavioral and environmental contributors to antisocial behavior and then improve our rehabilitation programs,” she said. “I think that our justice systems should be more focused on re-entry and creating rehabilitated, restored citizens as opposed to simply acting as punishment.”
Donahue said she never knew how prevalent the social problem was because these children are not seen.
“It’s almost like they’re invisible,” Donahue said. “So, if people on the outside don’t care and fight for them, nothing is going to change.”