Screenshot from "The Box" animation Credit: Anna Vignet/CIR

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.

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 correctional 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.

In this story,  you will hear from youth who have been inside the box and how it affected them.

Dig Deeper

  • Watch our new animation, “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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Jaena Rae Cabrera worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until February, 2017. Jaena Rae Cabrera is a Web producer for Reveal. Prior to joining Reveal, Cabrera was Web producer for Renaissance Journalism, a San Francisco-based nonprofit specializing in training, technical assistance, consultation and grants to journalists for media innovations that strengthen communities. Cabrera received a master’s degree in library and information science from Syracuse University. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor's in journalism. Cabrera is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.