News on Solitary

Report From North Carolina ACLU Finds Kids in Solitary in Charlotte Jails, March 2017

The North Carolina ACLU released a report on March 8, 2017 showing that Mecklenburg County is putting 16 and 17-year olds in solitary confinement in an adult jail (Jail North) for 23 hours a day without access to services or family visits. Most of these teenagers have not been found guilty of a crime and are put in solitary for minor offenses, like kicking a cell door. The story was first covered in December 2016 by a series of articles in the Charlotte Observer, while the Mecklenburg County Sheriff denied the allegations. The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP called for an investigation. According to Karen Simon, a retired Mecklenburg County jail official who is speaking out about the practice, almost 90% of the kids in solitary at Jail North were African American. “I saw them bundled up in a fetal position, crying oftentimes,” she said.

New Report Finds Solitary and Other Abuses in Colorado Juvenile Facilities, March 2017

In March 2017, the Colorado Child Safety Coalition released a report on punitive practices in the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections. The Colorado ACLU and Colorado Disability Rights created the report, Bound and Broken: How DYC’s Culture of Violence is Hurting Colorado’s Kids and What to Do About It, which includes new findings, photos, and case studies, and a call for change. Despite recent legislation to limit the use of solitary for kids in Colorado, the Report found high rates of isolation and staff use pain-compliance techniques, straitjackets, and knee strikes on youth. The Coalition also released a video featuring footage of some of these practices and the perspective of an young person. Read the ACLU Press Release and coverage in the Denver Post.

Federal Judge Orders Syracuse to Stop Putting Kids in Solitary, February 2017

On February 22, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd granted a preliminary injunction to stop the Onondaga Justice Center in Syracuse, New York from putting 16 and 17-year olds in solitary confinement pending the result of litigation in the V.W. et al. v. Conway et al case. The case is a class action lawsuit brought by several youth and their families, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), and the Legal Services of Central New York against the county for keeping youth in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, often for minor offenses. The injunction is particularly significant because Judge Hurd had to find that the plaintiffs were substantially likely to win their case in order to grant the motion. Starting March 7, some of the young people will be moved to a local juvenile detention center.

Bi-partisan Legislation Introduced in the U.S. Senate and House to End Youth Solitary, February 2017

In February 2017, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the Maintaining dignity and Eliminating Restrictive Confinement of Youth Act (S. 329), a federal bill banning solitary confinement for youth. The MERCY Act, which has bi-partisan support, also requires the Attorney General to create a report on why and how solitary confinement was used, data on solitary confinement disaggregated by race and ethnicity, and steps taken by each facility to reduce future solitary confinement.

There is a companion bill in the U.S. House sponsored by Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Representative Mia Love (R-UT). Read the press release from Senator Booker’s Office.

The DOJ Files Statement of Interest in Litigation Against Syracuse Jail for Keeping Children in Solitary, January 2017

On January 3, 2017, the United States Department of Justice filed a statement of interest to address the harmful effects of solitary confinement on youth in Onondaga County, New York. The Department of Justice Press Release is here. The statement of interest was filed in V.W. et al. v. Conway et al., a class action brought by six juveniles and their parents in September 2016. The Justice Department’s statement of interest in a lawsuit where the United States is not a party indicates the significant consequences that could arise from the decision in the NYCLU’s case. In Conway, the New York Civil Liberties Union sued the Onondaga County jail for keeping 16 and 17 year old youth in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, often for minor offenses. The complaint alleged that the jail put at least 86 youth in small isolation cells more than 250 times since October where they were subjected to abuse, threats, and physical violence from staff and adult inmates. Read the complaint and the NYCLU press releases from September 2016 and January 2017.

Litigation Filed Against Wisconsin for Keeping Kids in Solitary Confinement, January 2017

In J.J. v. Litscher, the Juvenile Law Center (JLC) and the Wisconsin ACLU filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin for subjecting kids to solitary confinement and other abusive conditions. In the complaint, plaintiffs argue that the use of solitary at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities is abusive and unconstitutional. Read the press release, social media toolkit, and first-hand accounts of young people here.

North Carolina Jails Holding Youth in Solitary Confinement, December 2016

In December a series of articles in the Charlotte Observer documented the ongoing practice of placing sixteen and seventeen year old youth in solitary confinement or long periods, often for minor offenses. Despite the position of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety not to place sixteen and seventeen year olds in solitary confinement in state correctional facilities, the practice is still happening in some North Carolina county jails, including Mecklenburg County’s Jail North. County Commissioner Pat Cotham visited Jail North and asked to experience the cells where youth are kept. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t imagine being here 24 hours” she said. In response to the article, the North Carolina NAACP president Rev. Dr. William Barber called for an investigationAnother Charlotte Observer article highlights the fact that reducing solitary for youth in other states has actually reduced violence. In March, 2017, a report from the ACLU sent to the County Sheriff revealed that Jail North was, in fact, holding youth in solitary under horrible conditions.

New Report from Yale and ASCA Focuses on Potential of Policy Change to Reform Adult Solitary, November 2016

A new report from Yale Law School and the Association of State Correctional Administrators reveals the most current national data on who and how many adults are in solitary confinement in the United States. This report follows 3 prior reports released by the Liman Program at Yale and the ASCA in 2013 and 2015. The most current report, Aiming to Reduce-Time In-Cell, highlights a growing interest from states in reducing the use of solitary in adult prisons and jails. An article from the Marshall Project summarizes the report’s key findings. Notably, the authors of the report faced significant limitations caused by the lack of available data.

Presidential Proclamation on Youth Justice Awareness Month, October 2016

In this proclamation released on September 30, 2016, President Obama called on the nation to end the solitary confinement for youth, reaffirm our commitment to helping children of every background become successful and engaged citizens, and address racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system.

UN Appoints New Special Rapporteur on Torture, September 2016

On September 30, 2016, Nils Melzer was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the next UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. He will take over from Juan Méndez on November 1, 2016. Read a two-part interview with Rapporteur Méndez reflecting on progress made during his six year tenure and his insight about the future of solitary confinement reform: Part 1 and Part 2.

Federal Legislation Introduced to Limit Solitary, September, 2016

On September 28, Senator Durbin introduced the Solitary Confinement Reform Act (S. 3432). Click here to read the Senator’s press release. The Act would limit solitary confinement for youth in federal custody to situations where the youth’s behavior presents an immediate threat, and then only for a period of four hours. After four hours, staff must take certain steps, including getting approval from the facility director every four hours.

California Passes Legislation to Limit Solitary for Youth, September 2016

In April 2016, California Senator Mark Leno introduced SB 1143, legislation to ban the use of room confinement for the purposes of punishment, coercion, convenience, or retaliation and to limit its use to situations where  less restrictive options have been tried. In August 2016, the California State Legislature passed SB 1143. Governor Brown signed the bill into law on September 27, 2016.

Co-sponsored by the Chief Probation Officers of California, human rights advocates, experts on youth rehabilitation, and faith leaders, this bill represents a multi-year effort in California. The California Attorney General Kamala Harris supported the bill, stating that isolation for youth “undermines the goal of helping this vulnerable population become healthy and productive members of society.”  Click here to read more from the LA Times Editorial Board.

SB 1143 provides a uniform definition of “room confinement” as the placement of a youth in a sleeping room or cell alone with minimal contact from facility staff. In addition, the bill requires that room confinement is limited to four hours generally, can only be used after all less restrictive options have been exhausted and cannot be used to the extent that it compromises the mental and physical health of the youth.

The NYCLU Sues Syracuse Jail for Keeping Children in Solitary, September 2016

On January 3, 2017, the United States Department of Justice filed a statement of interest to address the harmful effects of solitary confinement on youth in Onondaga County, New York. The Department of Justice Press Release is here. The statement of interest was filed in V.W. et al. v. Conway et al., a class action brought by six juveniles and their parents in September 2016. The Justice Department’s statement of interest in a lawsuit where the United States is not a party indicates the significant consequences that could arise from the decision in the NYCLU’s case. In Conway, the New York Civil Liberties Union sued the Onondaga County jail for keeping 16 and 17 year old youth in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, often for minor offenses. The complaint alleged that the jail put at least 86 youth in small isolation cells more than 250 times since October where they were subjected to abuse, threats, and physical violence from staff and adult inmates. Read the complaint and the NYCLU press releases from September 2016 and January 2017.

NCJFCJ Adopts Resolution Limiting Solitary Confinement for Youth, Encourage Judges to Act, August 2016

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges issued a resolution against the use of punitive solitary confinement for youth. The NCJFCJ supports a presumptive rule against solitary confinement of youth, except when a youth is out of control and poses an immediate risk of harm to self or others, and then only until the youth regains control.This is the same standard that the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign urges cities, counties and states to adopt.  NCJFCJ also calls for judges to take an active leadership role in limiting isolation for youth in detention and corrections facilities. The resolution outlines several key strategies endorsed by the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign and other national best practice standards. Click here to read more. Click here to read the SSK Statement on the Resolution. See an article by Stop Solitary for Kids partners Marc Schindler and Mark Soler in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

American Correctional Association Committee Approves Standards Limiting Solitary for MinorsAugust 2016

In August 2016 the American Correctional Association’s Restrictive Housing Standards Committee approved updated standards on the use of solitary confinement. The new standards are now subject to field testing and final approval, a process which could take until late 2017.  Standard 4-RH-0034 provides that “[c]onfinement of offenders under the age of 18 years of age in Extended Restrictive Housing is prohibited.” Extended Restrictive Housing is defined as being isolated in-cell for “at least 22  hours per day and for more than 30 days for the safe and secure operation of the facility.”

OJJDP Data Shows Half of Juvenile Detention Centers and Training Schools Use Isolation, August 2016

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention released a Data Snapshot in August showing that 46% of training schools and 47% of detention centers use isolation to control youth behavior. The Snapshot is based on data from OJJDP’s Juvenile Residential Facility Census collected in 2014. For more information on OJJDP Resources and Bulletins, click here. Listed below are articles addressing this data:

Abuse & Solitary Confinement Uncovered in Australia’s Juvenile Facilities, August 2016

An Australia news program released footage in late July revealing the use of solitary confinement and abuse on predominantly aboriginal children in juvenile facilities in the Northern Territories. Read more from the Washington Post. Amnesty International confirms documentation of these abusive practices, stating,

“The sound of guards laughing while children choke on teargas, should be ingrained on the minds of Australia’s leaders, who for years have ignored calls for better protection of children’s human rights in detention facilities in Northern Territory and across the country.”

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced an investigation into the treatment of the children in the facilities. The investigation is likely to be led by a former judge and would be held in conjunction with the Northern Territory government.

Video Advocacy Tool – Ending Solitary Confinement & Making Facilities Safer, August 2016

Juvenile Law Center and Stop Solitary for Kids release a powerful new video on the impact of solitary confinement.

Juvenile In Justice: End Solitary Confinement, Multi-Site Exhibition, July – September, 2016

Juvenile Law Center collaborated with InLiquid and photographer Richard Ross on this exhibit, a multi-site exhibition of Ross’ photographs, audio recordings of detained youth, and a replica of a solitary confinement cell. The main exhibit at the Free Library of Philadelphia opens July 21 and will run through September 4, 2016. Click here to see a video of a panel discussion at the exhibition opening. Read more about the exhibition and panel here.

New Mexico Mother Suing After Young Son Left in Solitary Confinement for 11 Months, July 2016

“Parents understand their children.  They understand how much they require, how much attention they need, how their emotional support is almost entirely dependent on their family unit.  A child’s development requires socialization, interaction with adults and peers, hugs, kisses, praise, discipline and affection.  Imagine removing all of that from a child’s life for nearly a year.” Chris Ramirez, Mother suing after young son left in solitary confinement for 11 months, KOB.com, July 7, 2016. 

Christian Cook suffers from with autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Rather than providing mental health treatment when held at the Curry County Juvenile Detention Center, medication, and special education, Christian was placed in isolation, despite expressing a desire to harm himself. Through attorney Matt Coyte, Christian’s mother is suing the county and the facility. Click here to read the complaint. The same facility was sued for abusive practices and isolation by another youth and settled for $450,000 in 2010.

DOJ Settlement with Hinds County, MS Addresses Segregation of Youth

On June 23, 2016, the DOJ announced a settlement with Hinds County Jail in Mississippi in that restricts the use of solitary for youth and adults, including the prohibiting segregation as punishment for youth. Segregation may only be used in situations of imminent harm, and even then the settlement imposes restrictions and documentation requirements. In May 2015, the DOJ issued a findings letter noting the inappropriate use of isolation in the facility.

OJJDP Joins Campaign to End Solitary of Youth, Hosts Meeting of Stakeholders

On June 24, 2016, OJJDP hosted the meeting, “Eliminating the Use of Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Justice Facilities: A Multisystemic Approach.” The meeting brought together stakeholders to better understand the use of solitary confinement at the state and local levels, address challenges, and highlight best practices in reducing the use of solitary confinement. Attendee feedback will be used to develop next steps for addressing solitary confinement and to identify how OJJDP can support state and local systems in reforming their own practices. Click here to read OJJDP’s blog post on solitary confinement.

North Carolina Takes Action to Limit Solitary for Juveniles in Adult Prisons

North Carolina is one of only two states that automatically charges 16 and 17 year old youth as adults. On June 15, 2016, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety announced plans to end the practice of youth under the age of 18 in solitary confinement by September 2016, citing the devastating harms of solitary confinement. In 2015, a coalition of human rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina School of Law Human Rights Policy Lab, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and NC Stop Torture Now sent a letter asking the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in North Carolina prisons. Click here to read more on the DPS announcement. To read about a new program being implemented by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety in response to this announcement, click here.

Colorado Passes Legislation to Limit Solitary

On May 10, 2016, Colorado passed legislation that would limit the use of solitary confinement in state-run juvenile facilities. House Bill 1328 limits the use of solitary to four hours except in emergency situations where a licensed physician in consultation with a mental health professional approves the continued use of solitary confinement. 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 report it to a board created by the law to oversee the practices and make recommendations to the directors. Click here and here to read more.

New England Journal of Medicine Perspective

On May 5, 2016, the New England Journal of Medicine published a perspective entitled “Reforming Solitary-Confinement Policy – Heeding a Presidential Call to Action,” calling on the medical community to speak up about the medical importance of significantly limiting our country’s use of solitary confinement. Click here to read more.

Los Angeles County Bans Solitary for Kids

On May 3, 2016, The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion that bans the use of solitary confinement in all the county’s juvenile detention facilities. The ban would permit solitary only as a temporary response when youth behavior poses a serious risk to themselves and others. The ban must be implemented by September. Click here to read more in LA Witness or the New York Times. Read about how LA County is now using art to re-purpose the SHU (Special Handling Units) previously used for solitary confinement.

Nebraska Passes Legislation Requiring Data on Youth Solitary

On April 7, 2016, Nebraska passed legislation that will go into effect on July 21, 2016. The law will require all facilities that house youth to gather and report detailed data on all instances of room confinement that exceed one hour. Facilities must submit quarterly reports to the Legislature and the Inspector General of Child Welfare must review this data and prepare annual reports to the legislature. In January 2016, the ACLU of Nebraska’s report, “Growing Up Locked Down,” found that juveniles are kept in isolation for up to 90 days in some facilities, while other facilities don’t even know how often or how long juveniles are deprived of contact with other people. Click here to read more.

6×9: A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement

In May 2016, the Guardian announced 6×9, a virtual reality experience of solitary confinement. Viewers can see and hear a 6-foot by 9-foot cell and listen to seven ex-inmates describe their experience and hear a 24-minute audio documentary.Click here to read more in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.