Massachusetts Agency Policy and Practice Sharply Reduce Solitary Confinement
Beginning in 2008-2009, the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) made policy and practice changes that significantly reduced the use of room confinement in all their facilities. DYS operates ten secure residential programs and a network of residential care facilities. These changes were originally spurred by a two youth suicides that took place while residents were in their rooms. The agency’s mission is to maximize each child’s time in programming and treatment on any given day, so time spent in room confinement prevented youth from engaging in programming, which became a serious concern . After a major shift in policies and practice, the use of room confinement gradually decreased. By April, 2016, the average time youth spent in isolation in DYS facilities was less than 1.25 hours.
DYS policy prohibits the use of room confinement as a form of discipline. The agency does permit limited periods of isolation when a youth exhibits dangerous and disruptive behavior and less restrictive alternatives to control the behavior have failed. However, staff must obtain authorization from agency administrators to use isolation for periods longer than 15 minutes, and staff must secure approvals from more senior officials outside of the facility as the requested time increases. Staff are trained to use alternative measures – including de-escalation, behavior management, and conflict resolution techniques – and to assist youth who are placed in isolation to develop an “Exit Strategy” to get out of isolation quickly and transition back into regular programming. This policy, coupled with other reforms at the agency, have led DYS to significantly reduce the use of room confinement. For more information: