October 01, 2017

National Report Finds Solitary Confinement Harms Youth and is Unevenly Applied

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Washington, D.C. – The Juvenile Law Center, Philadelphia, PA, released a report August 2, 2017 with findings on the use of solitary confinement at juvenile facilities nationally. The report found that despite progress at the federal level and in a growing number of states, solitary confinement of youth remains widespread, with a disproportionate impact on youth of color, LGBT youth, and youth with disabilities. The organization, which has fought the use of solitary confinement with kids for decades, shared the report’s findings at a Congressional briefing held the afternoon of August 2, 2017. 

 “Solitary confinement is torture—it can lead to depression, anxiety, hallucinations, self-harm, and even suicide, especially in teenagers,” said report co-author and Juvenile Law Center Associate Director Jessica Feierman. “It also doesn’t keep youth, staff, or the public safe. In fact, juvenile facilities that eliminate solitary confinement have seen reductions in violence as a result.” 

In crafting the report, the Juvenile Law Center surveyed public defenders and disability rights advocates, and interviewed facility administrators, youth and family members. More than two-thirds of public defenders surveyed reported that their clients spent time in solitary confinement.  

“The conditions are atrocious,” said Karen Lindell, report co-author and a Juvenile Law Center staff attorney.  “Kids are regularly denied access to personal belongings, papers, pens, books, time outdoors, recreation, counseling, and school. They are even denied basic necessities, like showers and mental health treatment.”

Juvenile Law Center supports legislation like the MERCY Act, introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). “There is no justice in throwing juveniles in solitary confinement. This practice, which disproportionately affects kids of color, LGBT kids, and those with disabilities, is deeply harmful. That’s exactly why we reintroduced the bipartisan Mercy Act earlier this year—to fix this injustice by banning the solitary confinement of juveniles under federal supervision,” Senator Booker said. “[The] report demonstrates the depth of the problem and the urgent need for reform.”

According to the report, the time is ripe for legal change. On July 10th, Juvenile Law Center, along with co-counsel the ACLU of Wisconsin and Quarles and Brady, won injunctive relief in a class action civil rights lawsuit against state officials for their use of solitary and other harmful practices at two youth facilities in Wisconsin—Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls. This is the third federal court order this year to hold solitary confinement of youth unconstitutional; similar orders were issued by federal courts in Tennessee and New York.  Since 2016, Washington D.C., California, and Colorado have all passed legislation strictly curtailing the use of solitary confinement in their juvenile facilities.  


Download the report and executive summary.