I can't imagine how I'd feel if my child was alone, and I couldn't comfort him. Alone, and with no one else to even keep him company, let alone give him a hug. I can't imagine how I'd feel if my son was being kept in a cage, being forced to kneel like a dog before he is given food.

But Kylee Douglas knows. She has lived through this with her son Jason.

I heard Ruth Hill's moving interview with Ms Douglas on Morning Report and have not been able to stop thinking about it ever since.

Douglas, who comes from Tokoroa, moved to Australia with her family five years ago. Her 15-year-old son Jason got into trouble. He was charged for his involvement in an aggravated robbery in Perth. He was sentenced to 2 years at Banksia Hill Detention Centre, a youth prison.


But Jason, now 18, has spent 340 days in isolation, including 120 days in solitary confinement.

Surely if you weren't disturbed or violent before, you would be after that experience?

Jason is now so desperate for human contact he has applied to be moved to an adult prison.

Douglas says her son has had to endure humiliating treatment, including having to kneel "like a dog" before he is allowed to have any food.

She said her son had changed.

"I hate to say it but he shows less empathy. Once, a while ago a 10-year-old boy came into the facility with a jersey down below his knees. I heard Jason say "Poor little fella."

"But now he doesn't bat an eyelid, because isolation, solitary confinement, mistreatment , it's all very normal for him now. There is no self-confidence, there is nothing left. He's a bit of a shell," Douglas told Hill.

"I understand they have to keep [the centre] under control, but at what cost? The human rights of children? Just because he had his 18th birthday, everyone says he's an adult: suck it up. But through being kept in a cage for over 300 days he's not been able to grow or feel or mature like an adult."

Of course he hasn't. At that age, his pre-frontal cortex is still being formed. The treatment of Jason makes me feel sad and powerless and very angry. And this is not just liberal hand-wringing. Hard science shows there is a uniquely destructive kind of mental agony caused by isolating treatment.

Professor Terry Allen Kupers, a psychiatrist who has written a book on solitary confinement says in the late 1980s, a historic wrong turn occurred. The jails and prisons were plagued by violence and seemed out of control.

Instead of downsizing the population and expanding rehabilitation programmes - reasonable and safe measures that would have effectively resolved the crisis - the powers that be decided to lock up "the worst of the worst" in solitary confinement in what were called "supermax" prisons.

"In other words, poor and disenfranchised people are "disappeared" by an increasingly inequitable society that refuses to adequately fund services they need to stay afloat. Then, in the prisons, many of the most disadvantaged and disabled are warehoused in solitary confinement. The public hears even less about their plight."

Professor Wes Boyd, a psychiatrist on faculty at Harvard Medical School said: "Let's call it for what it is: Placing prisoners in solitary confinement is tantamount to torture and it needs to stop."

I hope Jason would not be placed in solitary confinement were he in New Zealand. Here we talk a lot about rehabilitation. But still, we don't seem to realise that rehabilitation only comes from human connection. As human beings we learn and grow through relationship but this is not reflected in our prison system which is still about isolating and shaming.

Former prisoner Alex Swney spoke out on Newshub, saying he was only allowed 45 minutes a week with visitors, which made it difficult to maintain strong whanau and support networks which are critical for a successful release back into society.

He said he saw few signs of rehabilitation inside.

"It's just a miserable, punitive, negative experience. We need to acknowledge the reality of this. We can't hide behind these platitudes.

"I'm sorry. The place is broke. We need to fix it up. It starts back in the community. ... There are way too many patients in there, not prisoners."

And with more concern about doublebunking and overcrowding, there is even more threat we might follow the lead of the US into building supermax prisons.

I do know one way that might change everything. The prison system would have to change if we each let ourselves be deeply moved by stories like Jason's; if we started treating Jason like he was our own son or brother.

Jason's mother: "I know some people will believe Jason is somewhat of a monster because he's in a children's prison facility but you look into his eyes, you would see he's not. Before Banksia Hill he was a goofy, laughing, cheeky, mischievous little boy and he didn't have any scars on his arms."

The truth is most prisoners are like Jason. They need support and connection not the agony of being cut off from the rest of the human race.