What it’s like for teens in ‘the box’

New York City’s Rikers Island is one of the biggest jails in the U.S., housing about 12,000 adults. But did you know hundreds of teenagers are among its inmates?

Along with North Carolina, New York is one of two states that prosecute offenders as an adult after age 16, no matter what the charge.

And once they’re on Rikers, many teenagers end up in solitary confinement as punishment, locked in cells the size of bathrooms for 23 hours a day.

Most haven’t been convicted of a crime and simply can’t afford bail. In February, New York said it would stop using solitary confinement to punish prisoners under the age of 18, but the ban does not apply to local jails such as Rikers.

CIR reporters Daffodil Altan and Trey Bundy spent months investigating why teenagers are held in “punitive segregation” – more commonly referred to as “the box” – and what happens to the juveniles who are sent there.

Altan and Bundy tried to get New York City correction officials to explain why they’re holding so many teens in solitary and asked to see how young people live in the box. But after dozens of emails and phone calls, and two trips to New York, no one would talk to them or give them access.

Listen to the full segment to hear from youth who have been inside the box and how it affected them. And watch our new animation above, “The Box,” for one teenager’s experience of life in solitary confinement.

Do you think teens should be punished with solitary confinement? Share your thoughts in the comments or weigh in by tweeting us @Reveal.

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3 CommentsLeave a Comment


  • Reply

    Lisa Frederiksen - BreakingTheCycles.com

    30 weeks ago

    I heard your program on my drive home this week-end and was sickened. As someone who works with youth (and adults) using 21st century brain science to prevent, intervene and treat addiction, mental illness, childhood trauma, secondhand drinking | secondhand drugging and related topics (as in the reasons teens commit crimes in the first place as a function of where they are on the continuum of brain development as well as substance use, childhood trauma, mental illness….), your investigative report is the kind that must get out there. Thank you for this tremendous piece, and I will do my best to share it widely.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. The Reader Magazine – Film From Center for Investigative Reporting: Teens in Solitary Confinement
  2. The CIR Is On It: Telling the Story of Solitary Confinement for Teens Over, and Over, and Over Again - 10,000 Words

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