ISOLATION & VIOLENCE PERSIST, STATE VOWS TO AGAIN MAKE REFORMS – 2020
Despite legislation and a renewed focus on reducing room confinement in 2018, serious problems persist in Colorado state youth facilities, especially the Lookout Mountain facility. Problems at Lookout Mountain, including a riot in May 2019 triggered the state to seek a third-party report from a national consultant, the Council of Juvenile Justice Administrators. In 2019, three staff members there were placed on administrative leave after allegations of bringing drugs into the facility. There were also allegations and two confirmed cases of sexual misconduct by staff members. In January 2020, the state agency announced that it will shift from a model based on large youth prisons and punitive compliance measures to a “trauma-informed” approach with smaller groups of youth and relationship building with staff. The state Department of Human Services requested funding to split the Lookout Mountain institution into four smaller facilities.
COLORADO STATE AGENCY REFORM EFFORTS IN 2018
Recent information from the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections support the agency’s claim that reforms are underway and that the use of solitary confinement has dropped significantly.
2017 REPORT SHOWS SOLITARY STILL BEING USED ON KIDS DESPITE 2016 LAW
A report released in March 2017, by the Colorado Child Safety Coalition showed that solitary was still occurring in the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections (DYC) despite recent legislation limiting its use. Bound and Broken: How DYC’s Culture of Violence is Hurting Colorado’s Kids and What to Do About It found high rates of isolation, pain-compliance techniques, straitjackets, and knee strikes on youth. One particularly concerning practice involves using “the Wrap,” a device best described as a full-body straitjacket that holds youth in a painful position (read Fact Sheet below). The Report counted 3,611 times in a 13-month period that youths were restrained, including by handcuffs, shackles or a wrap, a straitjacket-type restraint. The Wrap was used 253 times.
The Report makes policy recommendations, including the creation of a pilot program in DYC based on the Missouri Approach, a successful model used by several states to reduce violence while maintaining low recidivism rates. The coalition also released a video featuring footage of some of these practices and the perspective of a young person. Use the resources below to learn more: CCSC Report, Video, ACLU Press Release, Denver Post news coverage of the report.
In February 2017, the Colorado DYC formed a committee to end the use of pressure-point pain-compliance techniques and offensive strikes by August 1, 2017. Another committee was created to meet between May 2017 and January 2018 to develop alternatives to “the Wrap.” In April, 2017, state officials said that the use of “the Wrap” straitjacket device would stop by July 2018, at least for youth under age 13.
2017 COLORADO LAW PROMISES BIG CHANGE IN YOUTH CORRECTIONS
Colorado legislators passed House Bill 1329 in May 2017, a law which will overhaul the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections (DYC) in favor of more rehabilitative, therapeutic, and age-appropriate policies and practices. Before the bill passed, advocates said that the law was necessary to end the culture of violence inside DYC by banning isolation, pain compliance techniques, and the Wrap, and creating a pilot housing unit operated under a more rehabilitative model. The law will also require independent evaluation and public disclosure of data regarding use of force against youth, and injury to youth and staff.
- Read more about HB 1329 in the Denver Post
- Read about the passage of HB 1329 in the Denver Post
- Read The Wrap Fact Sheet
- Read a Summary of Colorado HB 1329
- Text of HB 1329
2016 COLORADO LEGISLATION LIMITED SOLITARY
On May 10, 2016, Colorado passed legislation that limits the use of solitary confinement in state-run juvenile facilities. House Bill 1328 limits the use of solitary in the case of an emergency, which is defined as a “serious, probable, imminent threat of bodily harm to self or others where there is the present ability to effect such bodily harm.” The approval of a qualified mental health professional and the approval of the Director of the Division of Youth Corrections must be secured for a youth to remain in seclusion beyond four hours. A court order is required to keep a youth in solitary confinement for eight hours. The bill requires the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections to document the use of solitary confinement and to create a youth seclusion working group including experts from the community. Click here and here to read more.