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The Latest News on Ending Youth Solitary
State & Local Action
What You Can Do
Stop Solitary for Kids is a national campaign to end solitary confinement of youth in juvenile and adult facilities in the United States. The campaign is a joint effort by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, the Council of Juvenile Justice Administrators, and the Justice Policy Institute.
Why Fight to End Solitary Confinement for Kids?
States around the country have introduced or passed legislation to limit solitary confinement for youth. A growing number of states now face federal litigation for using solitary confinement on young people.
At the federal level, the Department of Justice called for a ban on solitary confinement for young people. Federal legislation with bi-partisan support passed the First Step Act, which limits the use of solitary confinement for youth in federal custody. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) strongly supports efforts to end youth solitary. The reauthorized Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) will require OJJDP to collect data on the use of solitary in youth facilities and action states are taking to limit its use. Many professional organizations including the American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, the American Psychological Association, the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, the American Bar Association, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges support the end of solitary confinement for youth.
The Dangers Of Solitary Confinement
Solitary confinement is unquestionably one of the most common, damaging, and counterproductive practices that occurs in juvenile justice facilities. Each year, thousands of young people are subjected to solitary confinement in juvenile and adult facilities across the country. Administrators and staff who supervise youth in the juvenile justice system have a fundamental responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the youth in their care. Solitary confinement can cause psychological and emotional harm, trauma, depression, anxiety, and increased risk of self-harm. It can also exacerbate mental illness and post traumatic stress responses suffered by many youth in the juvenile justice system. Sadly, research shows that more than half of youth who commit suicide inside facilities do so in solitary confinement.
Because of limited resources, facility administrators and staff often use solitary confinement for youth with unaddressed mental health, behavioral, or developmental needs. Because youth in solitary confinement don’t have access to behavioral health services, education, and treatment, solitary confinement undermines the very purpose of juvenile justice facilities – rehabilitation.
What Is Solitary Confinement?
Solitary confinement is the involuntary placement of a youth alone in a cell, room, or other area for any reason other than as a temporary response to behavior that threatens immediate physical harm. Most youth facilities refer to solitary confinement by different names – seclusion, isolation, segregation, or room confinement.
We want to stop any practice that meets this definition, regardless of what it is labeled.
Solitary Doesn’t Work
Solitary confinement undercuts the primary goal of facility administrators and staff who employ it: preserving the safety and security of an institution. Solitary confinement has a long history as a common tool to respond to youth behavior despite the fact there is no research to prove that it’s actually effective. To the contrary, experience shows that solitary confinement is ineffective at reducing behavioral incidents and may actually increase violent behavior in youth.
Reform Is Possible
Youth corrections systems in Ohio, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Oregon have improved the safety of facilities and decreases violence involving youth and staff by reducing the use of solitary confinement. The Massachusetts Department of Youth Services rarely uses solitary confinement for more than 1 hour and does not use solitary confinement as punishment. The Ohio Department of Youth Services has reduced solitary confinement to an average of under 3 hours.
Several state and local jurisdictions have successfully reduced room confinement. The Colorado Division of Youth Services, for example, decreased isolation by 68% from October 2016 to July 2018. Youth-on-staff assaults are also down 22%. After routinely using room confinement for over 22 hours per day, the Shelby County (Memphis) Juvenile Detention Facility virtually eliminated the use of room confinement for longer than 59 minutes. Following federal litigation and subsequent reforms, the Ohio Department of Youth Services was able to end the majority of incidents of room confinement within four hours.
Reform Is Possible
Between 2014 and 2015, the agency reduced room confinement by 89% and acts of violence by 22%. The Oregon Youth Authority also lowered the number of times isolation was used from 370 instances in July 2016 to 140 instances in December 2018. Other states and local jurisdictions have also taken steps to reform the use of juvenile solitary confinement on youth. Some efforts have taken the form of agency policy change or statewide legislation, others have been in response to litigation and legislation.
The Stop Solitary for Kids mission is to safely end the practice of solitary confinement for youth in juvenile and adult facilities across the country. Stop Solitary for Kids is a national initiative created by four diverse partner organizations with expertise in juvenile justice reform. The partner organizations include advocates, researchers, communications specialists, policy consultants, and facility superintendents and agency administrators of juvenile justice agencies. We focus on developing solutions that can create measurable and lasting change to end solitary. Our work includes public education, research, legislative education, policy reform, improved facility practices, and technical assistance.
Contact us to ask for help, obtain information, or request assistance with policy reform, or technical assistance:
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