Shatesha Morris: Isolated and Ignored

1 min

Self isolation is a policy, but it's also a choice. And Shatesha Morris is concerned about the well being of one particularly vulnerable population that has no choice.

Suddenly, many Californians are becoming aware of the psychological impacts of social isolation. But my awakening came years ago when I walked into a facility and my bones shivered as the coldness from the room met my face. Each individual room was dark and bare. Barren with no personal belongings, no pictures on the walls, no games or arts and crafts. It resembled a basement that children would avoid.

Except this basement-like place was built for children.

It was my first tour of a California county juvenile detention center, but in a sense, I’d been there before I even knew it. My mother was detained in juvenile hall when she was 16 and pregnant with me. But it was through my visit as an adult that I realized the gravity of the injustices we inflict on our incarcerated youth.

California has the ninth highest youth incarceration rate in the nation. The lessons we are all learning now about the costs of isolation and distance are not new lessons. It's the reality of incarcerated youth and a health emergency in its own right. But now it has gotten worse. The COVID-19 pandemic has indefinitely stopped family visits for the 6,700 young people housed in these facilities, placing youth in further isolation.

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My mother’s isolation robbed her psychological health and led to lifelong PTSD and depression. The prevalence of mental illnesses alike disproportionately impact incarcerated youth. As high as 65-70% of the total juvenile population has a mental health disorder. Prolonged isolation exacerbates mental illness and no child should have to experience its impacts.

While the world vies for treatments to end the COVID-19 nightmare, our youth deserve immediate justice. Pandemics require action, and they also require the best of our humanity. Gov. Newsom can urge for the reinstatement of visitation with a thoughtful plan for social distancing within detention centers.

It is time to prioritize the mental and physical well being of our youth.

With a Perspective, I’m Shatesha Morris.

Shatesha Morris is 24 and lives in Sacramento. She is pursuing her Masters of Social Welfare degree at UC Berkeley.