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Ohio Limits Solitary Confinement for Juvenile Offenders

Ohio Limits Solitary Confinement for Juvenile Offenders

by Derek Gilna

Ohio’s Department of Youth Services, which is responsible for the incarceration of offenders ages 10 to 21, reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in May 2014 to significantly reduce the frequency and duration of solitary confinement. Instead, state officials agreed to expand mental health services to juvenile offenders.

The previous year, a federal court had approved a consent order that mostly ended the monitoring of conditions of confinement and mental health services in Ohio juvenile facilities as part of a class-action suit. See: S.H. v. Reed, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ohio), Case No. 2:04-cv-01206.

Ohio has joined a number of other states that have reformed their juvenile justice practices under varying degrees of pressure, either from the DOJ or advocacy organizations such as the ACLU. New York has agreed to limit its use of solitary for juvenile offenders, as have Texas, Nevada and Oklahoma.

Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said the well-respected American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has voiced its opposition to the use of solitary in juvenile facilities because the “potential psychiatric consequences of prolonged solitary confinement are well recognized and include depression, anxiety and psychosis.”

“By putting [juveniles] in solitary confinement,” Fettig added, “we’re doing exactly the opposite of what we need to do, which is to foster their positive development so they can go back into society and thrive as human beings ... there’s not a shred of evidence that putting somebody in solitary confinement helps them.”

The DOJ, led by Attorney General Eric Holder, has stepped up its review of juvenile solitary confinement practices. “Over­reliance on solitary confinement for young people, particularly those with disabilities, is unsafe and counter-productive,” Holder said. “The Justice Department will continue to evaluate the use of solitary confinement so that it does not become the new normal for incarcerated juveniles.”

Fettig mentioned that she hopes the DOJ’s interest in the problem continues: “This settlement with Ohio has enormously important implication because it is a warning sign, it’s a signal to the rest of the country from the Department of Justice that [states] need to get their act together and they need to change their practices.... I think we can expect reforms across the country. If states want to get ahead of the Department of Justice coming in and interceding on behalf of children in their custody, they should start changing their practices now.”

According to a June 29, 2015 article published by The Crime Report, 20 states have passed laws that prohibit or limit the placement of juveniles in solitary. A bill to restrict juvenile solitary confinement in California (SB 124) failed to pass the state Assembly in September 2015 – ironically, at the same time that solitary for adult prisoners in state facilities was being curtailed.

Sources: http://america/aljazeera.com, www.ncsl.org, www.eastbayexpress.com, The Crime Report

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Related legal case

S.H. v. Reed