Cautia Spencer was 13 years old when she picked up a checkbook she found alongside the road. At lunchtime, she attempted to buy a slice of pizza from the school cafeteria with one of the blank checks she had discovered.
Cautia was placed in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice, but after disobeying rules at her facility, she incurred more charges. Though she had a documented history of mental health issues, she was ultimately sentenced to 18 months in adult prison. She was 16 when she entered the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections.
Less than a year later, Cautia was dead. She was found hanging by a sheet alone in her single cell. Cautia’s story illustrates the danger of subjecting children to solitary, sometimes called restrictive, confinement.
Research published by the U.S. Department of Justice found that more than half the children detained in juvenile facilities who died by suicide were isolated in their rooms.
Children are vulnerable to the harms inherent in utter isolation. Their vulnerabilities make them fundamentally different than adults. Research shows children’s special vulnerabilities can make their time spent in isolation even more difficult, and the developmental and physical damage more comprehensive and lasting.