The nation is moving away from the use of punitive solitary confinement in juvenile detention facilities, according to a new survey by the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest at Lowenstein Sandler. In recognition of Youth Justice Awareness Month and National Pro Bono Week, the Center has published a 51-jurisdiction survey of rules and policies governing the solitary confinement of juveniles, updated from one it released in 2013. The survey is available online at http://www.lowensteinprobono.com/reports/.
The updated survey captures more detailed information from practitioners and the administrators of juvenile facilities about the actual use of solitary confinement in their jurisdictions, as compared to just the written rules and policies. The current version also undertakes a more detailed review of the permitted uses of solitary confinement for reasons other than punishment.
"Much progress has occurred in the short time since the survey was first released in 2013," notes Natalie Kraner, Pro Bono Counsel at Lowenstein Sandler:
- The Department of Justice has recognized the dangers of solitary confinement to juveniles in particular, and its overuse in juvenile facilities;
- Several states, including New Jersey, Illinois, and Ohio, have recently banned the use of punitive isolation; and others, such as California, have pending legislation that, if passed, will eliminate the use of punitive solitary confinement in line with the growing national trend;
- Twenty-one states now prohibit the use of punitive solitary confinement by either law or practice, and twenty more impose time-limits on the use of punitive solitary confinement;
- However, of the twenty-one states that ban punitive solitary confinement, we have confirmed that nineteen continue to use solitary confinement for other purposes, such as safety concerns. And only seven of these nineteen set limits on the maximum time a juvenile can spend in non-punitive solitary confinement.
"While these changes reduce the risk of serious harm to juveniles in secure facilities, we still have a long way to go," Kraner adds. "Despite the growing number of bans on punitive isolation, the overwhelming majority of states continue to lock young people up alone, potentially for long periods, based on a perceived threat to themselves, others, or the security of the facility. Policies that permit the overbroad and prolonged use of non-punitive solitary confinement may expose juveniles to the very same physical and psychological harms that the abolition of punitive isolation is meant to prevent."
Adds Kraner, "We prepared the updated survey with the goal of distilling best practices from those states that have not only eliminated punitive isolation, but also closely regulated the non-punitive use of isolation by imposing safeguards such as meaningful time-limits, supervisory approval, the early intervention of mental health professionals, and continued access to education and social services. Our hope is that this survey will assist states in passing rules and policies that have the appropriate protections in place."
The Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest is a member of the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Reform Coalition, which is pursuing system-wide reforms of New Jersey's juvenile justice system, including promoting alternatives to incarceration for youth and improving conditions of confinement for those who are incarcerated. Members of the Coalition's Steering Committee also include Advocates for Children of New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the New Jersey Parents' Caucus, and Rutgers Law School Children's Justice Clinic in Camden and Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic in Newark.
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