State & Local Action

Ohio Reduces Solitary Confinement and Improves Facility Safety

Following litigation involving the U.S. Department of Justice and the Children’s Law Center of Kentucky, the Ohio Department of Youth Services (ODYS) entered into an agreement with to eliminate the use of seclusion in its juvenile correctional facilities. As part of this consent decree, ODYS abolished the use of seclusion for disciplinary sanctions, created alternatives to the use of seclusion, and instituted increased oversight into the use of seclusion. In the months following the implementation of these changes between 2014 and 2016, the vast majority of seclusion episodes ended within 4 hours, with the average length of seclusion being 2.83 hours. Click here read the complaint and other court documents.

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.

Illinois Litigation Leads to Policy Limiting Solitary Confinement

On May 4, 2015, as part of a lawsuit, R.J. v. Jones, filed in 2012 by the ACLU of Illinois against the state over dangerous conditions in juvenile facilities, Illinois limited the use of solitary confinement. The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice created a policy that limits the use of isolation for Illinois’s six state-run juvenile facilities. Click here to read more about the settlement from the ACLU of Illinois, including a summary of the policy and the lawsuit. Under the policy, isolation is not permitted as punishment. Youth who are isolated must be provided regular education and mental health services and, if in isolation for more than 24 hours, they must be out of their rooms interacting with staff for at least 8 hours each day.

Massachusetts Policy and Practice Sharply Reduce Solitary Confinement

Since 2007, the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS), has made policy and practice changes to significantly reduce the use of solitary confinement. 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, with most instances of room confinement lasting less than 2 hours.

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 putting 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.

Under the a new program being implemented by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, youth in modified housing should be out of their rooms for 45 hours per week for programming. Unfortunately, this still leaves a fair number of waking hours unaddressed. In our experience, the best policies limit isolation far more strictly and encourage facilities to keep youth involved in programming as many hours as possible per day.

Unfortunately, many county jails are still keeping sixteen and seventeen year old in solitary confinement for long periods of time, often for minor offenses. After series of articles in the Charlotte Observer focused on the practice in Mecklenburg Count’s Jail North, the North Carolina NAACP president Rev. Dr. William Barber called for an investigation. On March 8, 2017 another Observer article featured a report from the ACLU of North Carolina that showed high rates of solitary for youth, especially youth of color.