DOJ RESOURCES ON SOLITARY
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. Read the Department of Justice Press Release here. The statement of interest was filed in V.W. et al. v. Conway et al., a class action brought by several teens and their parents in September 2016. When the Justice Department issues a statement of interest in a lawsuit where the United States is not a party, it indicates that significant consequences that could arise from the decision. 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.
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.
In July 2015, President Obama called on Attorney General Loretta Lynch to conduct a review of the overuse of solitary confinement in the United States. The Department of Justice released its findings on January 26, 2016. The full report recommends prohibiting restrictive housing for juveniles and key principles on staff training and programming to reform the use of restrictive housing for young adults (ages 18-24). The President adopted the Department of Justice’s recommendations in this report, banning solitary confinement of juveniles in federal prisons and setting a model for state and local corrections systems.
The DOJ criticized the Department of Corrections for using extreme violence and excessive solitary confinement against adolescents at Rikers Island.