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 Correctional Administrators, and the Justice Policy Institute.
There is a growing national consensus that we must eliminate solitary confinement for children, and that such a result is, in fact, possible. President Obama and the Department of Justice called for a ban on solitary confinement for young people. The federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention strongly supports efforts to end youth solitary. Many professional organizations including the American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, the American Psychological Association, the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, and the American Bar Association support the end of solitary confinement for youth. A bi-partisan group of Senators introduced federal legislation, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which limits the use of solitary confinement for youth in federal custody to situations in which the young person poses a serious and immediate threat of physical harm, and then only for brief periods of no more than three hours. This language was reintroduced in 2017 as the MERCY Act. Several states and counties have limited solitary confinement for youth in recent years.
DANGERS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
Solitary confinement is unquestionably one of the most common, damaging, and counterproductive practices occurring 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.
Solitary confinement is often used in situations where there are insufficient staff or resources to respond to disruptive behavior in less restrictive ways, or in situations where staff feel they have no other options available. Because of limited resources, facility administrators and staff often use solitary confinement for youth with unaddressed mental health, behavioral, or developmental needs. Because youth are often deprived of 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 IS INEFFECTIVE AND CREATES VIOLENCE
Solitary confinement undercuts the primary goal of facility administrators and staff who employ it: preserving the safety and security of an institution. Research shows that solitary confinement is not an effective tool for reducing behavioral incidents and may actually increase violent behavior in youth. The Director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services, which dramatically reduced use of solitary confinement in 2015, stated that solitary confinement “does not make facilities safer. It does not prevent violence or reduce assaults on staff and youth; instead, as the department’s data showed, it increases violence.”
In 2012, the U.S. Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence called for the end of solitary confinement on youth, stating that “[n]owhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.”
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 2 hours 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. Many other states and local jurisdictions have 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.