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July 26, 2019 Practice Points

Stop Solitary Confinement for Kids

Use this report in local facilities to make changes and in litigation to argue that isolation should not be used when there are other ways to keep children and staff safe.

By Sophie Eaglesham

A new report was published by Stop Solitary for Kids in June called Not in Isolation: How to Reduce Room Confinement While Increasing Safety in Youth Facilities. Using examples from local and state facilities in Massachusetts, Colorado, Oregon, and Tennessee, this report draws out and expands on best practices for minimizing the use of solitary with youth populations. The report’s purpose is to use actionable data and real-life learnings to drive change around the current isolation conventions in many youth facilities by galvanizing leaders to take action.

Given that solitary confinement—also called “room confinement” and “isolation”—has featured prominently in the standard operating of youth facilities for decades as a means of controlling unwanted behaviors, it can be difficult for facilities to effectively remove this tactic from their repertoire without significant intervention. Not in Isolation is designed as a guide to help facilities to rethink their practices in order to work exclusively towards positive developmental outcomes for their young residents, which we know must exclude confinement. Based on the case studies from the four jurisdictions, this report highlights that cycling out solitary confinement is feasible for all facilities and that there are key strategies for implementing this change without sacrificing security. To further support facilities undergoing this transformation, Not in Isolation includes sample forms and policies that facilities can use directly, or as a template for their own documentation and regulations.

The core argument put forth in this report is that the use of confinement is an output of a multitude of operational and behavioral factors in a facility, and therefore, any efforts to eliminate this harmful practice must be approached holistically. It is not simply a matter of stamping out isolation in one day. As the responsibility for enacting this change sits with local and state facilities, this guide can be used as a practical, tried-and-true blueprint for implementing changes across facilities. It is vital that staff are involved in planning and execution, rather than a top-down approach as they will be the ones most impacted, and potentially hesitant about how the removal of confinement could implicate their sense of safety. It is also important that the “why” and “how” of the decision to make this change are shared transparently. Armed with the examples, approved methodologies, and data points in this report, staff and administrators will be empowered to use less restrictive and more appropriate techniques when working to support incarcerated youths. Lawyers can use this report to work with their local facilities in making changes as well as in litigation when arguing that solitary confinement should not be used for children when there are clearly other ways to keep children and staff safe in facilities.

Sophie Eaglesham  has her MSc in social policy and development from the London School of Economics and volunteers with the ABA's Children's Rights Litigation Committee.

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