Young People Were Put In Solitary Confinement For Having ‘Too Many Books’

It’s not unusual for students to be reprimanded for talking back to authorities or passing notes (nowadays more likely to be texts).

But the state of Nebraska seems to be taking those punishments to an extreme. A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that children in juvenile detention centers are being forced into solitary confinement for offenses as minor as refusing to follow directions, passing notes or, heaven forbid, owning too many books. (How is that an offense?)

I am not making this up.

The ACLU report, entitled “Growing Up Locked Down,” found that the state used solitary confinement as a punishment for young people extensively across multiple juvenile detention centers. This in spite of the fact that solitary confinement is considered a form of torture by the U.N., and in recent years, has been outlawed and scaled back in the United States. 

In Nebraska, however, children are being forced into isolation for the most minor offenses, including: “talking back to staff members, having too many books, or refusing to follow directions.”

From the report:

“On any given day in Nebraska, juvenile justice facilities routinely subject kids in their care to solitary confinement. The solitary confinement of children is suspect from a legal and policy perspective. Solitary confinement can cause extreme psychological, physical, and developmental harm. For adults, the effects can be persistent mental health problems, or worse, suicide. And for children, who are still developing and more vulnerable to irreparable harm, the risks of solitary are magnified – protracted isolation and solitary confinement can be permanently damaging, especially for those with mental illness.”

Later in the report, we read that at the Northeast Nebraska Juvenile Services Center, at least one teen spent a horrifying 52 days in solitary confinement; however, the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility had one even longer sentence, of 90 days, while its average length of isolation was 187.66 hours (roughly eight days).

Back To The Dark Ages

While school districts around the country are changing their approach to discipline by using restorative justice, the state of Nebraska seems to be stepping back into the Dark Ages as far as behavior management goes.

As the report concludes, juvenile facilities in Nebraska are not utilizing best practices for the use of solitary confinement and thus are risking serious mental health impacts for vulnerable youth.

The specifics of solitary confinement can vary, but in Nebraska juvenile facilities they were found to include everything from placing a teen alone in a cell for numerous hours, limiting any contact with family members, and allowing little or no access to reading and writing materials, or indeed any kind of education. How is that supposed to help a student manage his behavior?

Not only that, but plenty of research has documented the damaging psychological effects of long-term confinement, including: increased risk of suicide, uncontrollable feelings of anger, hypersensitivity to noise and touch, and insomnia and paranoia. The effects of being placed in solitary confinement are, of course, even greater for juveniles, whose brains are still developing.

How Many States Permit Juveniles To Be Placed In Isolation?

A nationwide survey on the use of solitary confinement, released in October, 2015, found that 21 jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., “prohibit punitive isolation in juvenile facilities by law or practice.” Twenty more “states impose time-limits on the use of solitary confinement,” and these range from 6 hours to 90 days; and “10 states either place no limit on the amount of time a juvenile may spend in punitive solitary confinement or allow indefinite extensions of their time limits through administrative approval.”

Nebraska allows juveniles to be isolated for much longer than most states that set limits.

Isolating a young person temporarily for his or her safety and security, as well as the people around him, may well be necessary in certain cases. However, the option to isolate children in Nebraska is clearly overused, and undoubtedly leads to even more serious problems. It’s easy to see how the school-to-prison pipeline could be one of those problems.

As for placing kids in isolation for talking back to the authority, I fail to see how the punishment has any relation to the “crime.” And owning too many books? Since when is that even possible?

133 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sierra B.
Sierra B1 years ago

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TOO MANY BOOKS!

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Michelle Spradley

Solitary confinement is just the ultimate time out - and equally as useless. While talking back to authority figures and not following instructions are punishable offenses, calling "having too many books" a punishable offense is, at the very least, laughable. These troubled kids should be encouraged to read books - and avoid TV and video games, among other things. A better punishment for the actual offenses the kids commit would be having them write book reports on books like War and Peace and Silas Marner (not a particularly long book, but probably the most boring book ever published).

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Carol Hodgson
Carol Hodgson1 years ago

This is ridiculous maybe some of the authorities need to read books more

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 1 years ago

Dumber than a bucket of rocks--and I don't mean the young people either! Thanks for posting.

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Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla1 years ago

What I am reading? What the hell! The ignorance of the people is the power of a government they say....

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 1 years ago

Whomever dreamed up this notion was/is dumber than a bucket of rocks!! Thanks for posting.

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Eric S.
Eric S1 years ago

typical gop-conservative values

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Jenny Sejansky
Jenny Sejansky1 years ago

It's hard to imagine how conservative (which is another word for backwards) some of these counties in so many states are.
I've never heard of a kid being charged with too many books. Now, I do know that after standardized tests are taken and turned in, students may not read anything, do home work or text. This is AFTER the test they were taking has been collected from them and there's nothing left for them to cheat on. Now, I do understand the no texting and no electronics, as they can cheat that way, but books??? If you put somebody in SC, you don't want them stimulating their minds in any way, shape or form. But that's once you're in. Not sure how books get you there...

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Heather McGuirk
Heather McGuirk1 years ago

This is insane. Solitary confinement is a form of torture and it does no one any good. No one should ever be subjected to it, let lone children who commit minor infractions of the rules.

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