What's worse? The punishment is often used to isolate mentally ill kids.
Imagine being a frightened teenager locked in a space no larger than a closet for days, even weeks, at a time. No one speaks to you. You see nothing but bare walls and sleep on a bare mattress—or, in some cases, on a metal bed frame with no cushion. If you dare act out in frustration, the result? More days of solitary confinement as punishment for making noise.
That's daily life for a shocking number of mentally ill young teens serving time in American prisons. Last week, the federal government filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order against the Ohio Department of Youth Services for excessively isolating mentally ill juvenile offenders. This solitary confinement is causing these boys "real, irreparable harm," according to the lawsuit, and it is violating their due process rights.
"Seclusion has become the state’s modus operandi for handling boys with mental illness,” the lawsuit states. “In the last six months of 2013, the state imposed almost 60,000 hours of seclusion on boys at the facilities.... The state punishes the boys with seclusion (i.e., solitary confinement) for days on end, often also depriving them of education, exercise, programming and crucial mental-health care."
The Ohio Attorney General's Office is pushing back: It filed a response last Friday requesting that the court deny the motion for a restraining order. The folks who run the state's Department of Youth Services "are in the best position to determine how seclusion is applied," the filing said. And "the overarching principle of deferring to prison officials regarding institutional safety should be liberally applied."
How many hours do boys in Ohio prisons spend in solitary confinement? In 2013 it was an average of 450 hours per youth, according to research of public records done by theColumbus Dispatch. That's up noticeably from a (still disturbing) average of about 362 per offender in 2012.
Imagine that: spending nearly 500 hours over the course of a year locked alone in a closet-size space. Of course, that's an average, which means some young inmates spent far more time in solitary, while others spent less or weren't isolated at all.
If parents did this to their children, we'd want them arrested, says Marsha Levick, deputy director of the Juvenile Law Center. "It's state-sanctioned child abuse," she says. "It's torture."
Yet prisons throughout the country—many of them for-profit businesses that benefit when the same teens are repeatedly incarcerated—are doing just that. So troubled kids leave these prisons suffering from fresh trauma that only exacerbates the mental illness, socioeconomic pressures, or family dynamics that may have led to their incarceration in the first place.
The alleged abuses in Ohio aren't the first to draw national headlines: In Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Texas, abuses of minors and inhumane conditions at prisons have sparked outrage, lawsuits, and calls for legislation. Connecticut is one of the few states lauded for reforming its treatment of juvenile offenders.
In February, Sen. Dick Durbin held his second congressional hearing on the subject. "This Subcommittee has worked to address human-rights issues around the world, as we did with our hearing last month on the Syrian refugee crisis," Durbin said in his opening statement. "And we have an obligation to honestly consider our own human-rights record at home."
We don't know yet whether those hearings will lead to legislation barring the practice of isolating young teenagers in prison.
But Levick says attention is turning to this topic: Last fall the American Civil Liberties Union released a report calling for a ban on solitary confinement of children held in juvenile facilities. Human Rights Watch and other national organizations are tackling the topic, and many states have advocacy communities that are addressing the issue.
Thousands of kids locked alone in tiny cells right now are hoping we find answers and push for change.
There is also a petition embedded in this article which you can only sign by actually going to the article. Petition information:
FULL PETITION TEXT
I am writing to urge you to make protecting children from rape in adult jails and prisons a priority.
As you know, Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003 to end sexual violence behind bars. The PREA's Youthful Inmate Standard bans the housing of youth in the general adult population, prohibits contact between youth and adults in common areas in adult jails and prisons, and at the same time, limits the use of isolation in complying with the standard.
It is difficult to keep youth safe if kept in adult detention and correctional facilities. It is also dangerous to segregate and isolate youth, the common “solution” to keeping them from assault in adult jails and prisons. Spending long stretches in solitary confinement can aggravate mental health problems and put kids at a much higher risk of suicide. The only solution for successful implementation of PREA's Youthful Inmate Standard is to remove youth from adult detention and correctional facilities all together, and placing them with their peers in juvenile detention facilities instead.
With states beginning their compliance audits as soon as July 2013, it is imperative that you raise awareness about the dangers young people face in adult jails and prisons, urge states and localities to focus on this crucial issue, and provide concrete assistance on best practices for implementing the Youthful Inmate Standard. As adult jails and prisons are simply not equipped to safely detain youth, I urge you to provide technical assistance to jurisdictions that reflect this reality by calling for the removal of all under-18 youth from adult prisons and jails.
This recommendation is consistent with your Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence report released in December that states, "We should stop treating juvenile offenders as if they were adults, prosecuting them in adult courts, incarcerating them as adults, and sentencing them to harsh punishments that ignore their capacity to grow."
Thank you for time and consideration.
[Your Name Here]
ABOUT THE PETITION
Annually, over 100,000 youth are detained or confined in adult jails and prisons. The research shows that youth are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization and suicide. To end sexual violence behind bars, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The PREA's Youthful Inmate Standard bans the housing of youth in the general adult population, prohibits contact between youth and adults in common areas in adult jails and prisons, and at the same time, limits the use of isolation in complying with the standard.
It is crucial that Attorney General Eric Holder ensure that children are fully protected from the dangers of adult jails and prisons under PREA's Youthful Inmate Standard. Rather than try to segregate children from adults in adult jails and prisons, which often leads to solitary confinement, the Attorney General should urge states and localities to implement best practices by removing youth from adult jails and prisons and instead place them in juvenile facilities.
Please sign and share the petition. Thanks.
Thank you so much Rose!
Are you kidding ? 500 hours a year is less than ten hours a week, is less than 2 hours a day - somebody must have f***ed the numbers. I wish I had two hours a day for myself.
Well at least you're not a frightened teenager with mental illness locked up somewhere when you probably shouldn't be. And hopefully, you have the capacity to comprehend what's going on in your life. I haven't met too many teenagers with a true grasp on life yet; that can be hard for many at any age.
Susan, an average person should sleep eight hours a day, I would not mind to do this in a safe place, especially if I were mentally disabled.
Of course it's not okay if these people get locked up against their will, but if they are dangerous and got a verdict, one must save them from the environment.
Don't you have special prisons for young people in the USA ?
I don't think you're getting it. It's not like these kids are only locked up at bedtime for a few hours, this article is saying that these kids are locked up for days on end. Hence, the first paragraph:
"Imagine being a frightened teenager locked in a space no larger than a closet for days, even weeks, at a time. No one speaks to you. You see nothing but bare walls and sleep on a bare mattress—or, in some cases, on a metal bed frame with no cushion. If you dare act out in frustration, the result? More days of solitary confinement as punishment for making noise."
The DoJ lawsuit states:
“In the last six months of 2013, the state imposed almost 60,000 hours of seclusion on boys at the facilities.... The state punishes the boys with seclusion (i.e., solitary confinement) for days on end, often also depriving them of education, exercise, programming and crucial mental-health care."
Do we have special prisons to lock up juveniles in the US? I'm sure we're supposed to and I'm sure there are juvenile detention facilities. But what we have more and more in the US these days are "for profit prisons" which are also mentioned in this article.
"It's state-sanctioned child abuse ... It's torture. Yet prisons throughout the country—many of them for-profit businesses that benefit when the same teens are repeatedly incarcerated—are doing just that. So troubled kids leave these prisons suffering from fresh trauma that only exacerbates the mental illness, socioeconomic pressures, or family dynamics that may have led to their incarceration in the first place."
The last sentence of that paragraph more or less explains why most of these kids are being incarcerated in the first place, but the biggest problem we have in the US right now is these for-profit prisons. We've had cases where people from prosecutors to judges have been charged with sending kids to these places because they profit from it because they own stock in the prison. The government enters into a contract that says the prison must be kept at a specific occupancy level, and that level is usually in the 90% range, and if that level is not maintained, then the government pays a huge fine for breach of contract. This is a win/win for the corporation, but a lose/lose for the people.
America has a huge prison population. It's bad enough that we do this sort of thing to adults, but it's unconscionable that we're doing it to mentally ill juveniles.
This is terrible poor kids I know that some of them made some bad things but they do not deserve this kind of torture.
Signed the petition too thank you Susan :-)
Susan, I have tried to sign, but the it will not accept the Post Code for the UK, would advised away around this so that I may sign and give my support, thank you.
Didn't know there would be a problem. You can use my zip, but I'm not sure about the address. Don't want to try another signer to my address. My zip is 27612. It may just be best to leave it be. I appreciate you trying though :)
Susan, it's worked, thank you, love you
Awesome Ray, thank you.