In February 2018, the Tennessee legislature introduced the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018, or HB 2271. In addition to several changes that support better outcomes for youth in Tennessee, the bill would limit punitive seclusion for youth. The bill does not, however, include language to limit placing youth in seclusion in situations where facility staff deem seclusion necessary for a youth’s own safety. For example, this limitation might not protect T.W., a 16-year old girl being held in solitary confinement in an adult jail, from seclusion.
TASK FORCE JUVENILE JUSTICE REPORT (2017)
In May 2017, the Tennessee Governor, Supreme Court justices, the Department of Children’s Services, and others requested the creation of an Joint Ad-hoc Tennessee Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice (Task Force) to investigate and make recommendations to improve the state’s juvenile justice system. The Task Force’s Report and recommendations were released in December 2017. The recommendations included prohibiting solitary confinement for youth in detention (pg. 21).
In April 2016, the ACLU of Tennessee joined litigation, Frazier v. Hommrich, against Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center on behalf of a fifteen year old boy with developmental disabilities who was put in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day as punishment for non-violent behavior including “hollering, rapping, and making gang signs.” The lawsuit was filed by Sharieka Frazier on behalf of her son. The facility was aware that the child likely had a mental illness but did not permit a court-ordered mental health evaluation to take place while he was in solitary and denied any mental health services.
The federal court granted a motion in February 2017 to expand the group of plaintiffs to include “all juveniles detained in the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center who are or were placed in solitary confinement or isolation for punitive reasons from April 15, 2015, to present.” On March 22, 2017, the federal judge also granted a preliminary injunction to prevent the county from putting any youth in punitive solitary confinement until the case is resolved. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) has standards for state-run facilities, but those standards to not apply to county detention facilities.
In April 2017, another lawsuit was filed against Williamson County, Tennessee for allowing a child to be sexually abused while in the Williamson County Detention Center in 2013 and then placed in solitary confinement for five weeks as punishment. When notified, the family claims, the judge took no action. The child, J.H., is no longer in custody. The litigation asks for compensation for J.H.’s mental health treatment and for a ban on solitary confinement.