May | June 2016

OJJDP Joins National Campaign To End Solitary Confinement of Youth
Administrator Listenbee speaks at the Stop Solitary for Kids launch event
Photo credit: Stop Solitary for Kids.

“Ending the practice [of solitary confinement] in juvenile justice facilities is and has been a priority for the Department of Justice and our Office,” Administrator Listenbee said at the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign launch event. “The Department has strongly criticized the excessive use of solitary confinement, especially for youth who suffer from mental illness."

Eliminating the use of solitary confinement and isolation is a critical step toward improving conditions for youth in out-of-home confinement and creating an environment where they can heal and thrive.

“Too often, solitary confinement is used to punish a child or to avoid addressing behavioral or mental health issues,” said Administrator Listenbee, speaking at the April launch of Stop Solitary for Kids, a national campaign to end the solitary confinement and isolation of youth in state and local juvenile justice facilities. “Alternatives to solitary confinement allow youth to receive specialized treatment, education, and have contact with the general population.”

OJJDP is committed to working with states and local jurisdictions to develop policies that limit the use of solitary confinement. Mr. Listenbee reported that the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA), with support from OJJDP, has developed the “CJCA Toolkit for Reducing the Use of Isolation.” The comprehensive toolkit guides youth correctional administrators in changing cultures that rely on isolation as a behavior management tool. The recommendations contained in the toolkit are grounded in research, best practices, and lessons learned from jurisdictions that have successfully reduced the use of isolation. The Office also funds technical assistance to states through the Center for Coordinated Assistance to States to support jurisdictions in examining their practice regarding use of solitary confinement for youth.

Other speakers at the event, held in Washington, DC, included ‎Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity Roy Austin and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D–New Jersey). The speakers addressed the systemic impact of solitary confinement, its personal impact on the lives of youth and families, and the perspectives of correctional administrators.

Many youth in solitary confinement do not receive appropriate education, mental health services, or drug treatment. To demonstrate effective ways of addressing the problem of solitary confinement, the launch event featured a panel of directors of state juvenile justice agencies that have eliminated or greatly reduced the use of solitary confinement. “What we saw in Ohio was that seclusion was actually making children worse,” said panelist Linda James, Assistant Director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services. “The more time they spent in seclusion, the more violent they became. Each act became more intensified and violent than the last. We’ve seen fantastic results [using alternatives to solitary confinement] in Ohio. We reduced seclusion by 89 percent and, at the same time, violence decreased by 22 percent.”

In January 2016, President Barack Obama banned the use of solitary confinement for youth within the federal prison system. The President’s announcement came in response to Department of Justice (DOJ) recommendations issued after a 6-month study of the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. “We, at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, applaud the President’s commitment to this issue and are encouraged by his announcement,” said Administrator Listenbee.

On June 24, 2016, OJJDP hosted the meeting, “Eliminating the Use of Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Justice Facilities: A Multisystemic Approach.” The meeting brought together stakeholders to better understand the use of solitary confinement at the state and local levels, address challenges, and highlight best practices in reducing the use of solitary confinement. Attendee feedback will be used to develop next steps for addressing solitary confinement and to identify how OJJDP can support state and local systems in examining their own practices.

Resources:

A video of the Stop Solitary for Kids campaign launch is available online.

Administrator Listenbee’s blog, “OJJDP Supports Ending Solitary Confinement for Youth” and the Report of the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, which calls for the end of solitary confinement for youth, may be accessed on the DOJ website.

OJJDP encourages states, localities, and tribal communities to follow the guiding principles and policy recommendations outlined in DOJ's Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing. Additional resources are available from the OJJDP website.