President Barack Obama
Barack Obama says solitary confinement must be resorted to only when an inmate poses a threat to staff or to himselfGetty Images

US President Barack Obama is seeking to impose a ban on solitary confinement of all juveniles and low-level offenders in federal prisons across the country. Obama, who hopes to make the move a reality before his term ends, says such confinement could lead to "devastating, lasting psychological consequences".

Obama's move comes after a review report by the Justice Department regarding the legitimacy of solitary confinement which was ordered by the president last year. Congress and a dozen other states have also been considering limits on the punishment for quite some time now.

In an op-ed that Obama penned for the Washington Post, he writes: "Research suggests that solitary confinement has the potential to lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences. It has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behaviour. Some studies indicate that it can worsen existing mental illnesses and even trigger new ones."

The necessity for solitary confinement, according to him, is only when an inmate poses a threat to staff or to himself. It should otherwise be limited, applied with constraints and used only as a measure of last resort.

There are close to 100,000 people, including juveniles and people with mental illnesses, held in solitary confinement in US prisons, according to a study by the Yale Law School in 2014. Scaling down these numbers, according to Obama, would prove to be a better way of rehabilitation. He cites the example of Colorado where after the cut in the number of people in solitary confinement, assaults against staff have been the lowest since 2006.

In July 2015 Obama toured a federal prison in Oklahoma, the first by any sitting US president, and expressed concern for the lives of prisoners that few of his predecessors have shown. "We have to consider whether this is the smartest way for us to both control crime and to rehabilitate individuals," he had said after his visit to the El Reno prison in Oklahoma.