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Childrens Law Center Testimony Before Senate Judiciary on Solitary Confinement 2012

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Testimony of Kim Brooks Tandy
Executive Director
Children’s Law Center, Inc.
1002 Russell Street, Covington, Kentucky 41011

Hearing Before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the
Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights
Hearing on “Reassessing Solitary Confinement:
The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences”

June 15, 2012
Thank you Senator Durbin, Ranking Member Graham, and other members of the
Subcommittee for holding this hearing today on solitary confinement.

I commend this

Subcommittee for its inquiry into this issue, but respectfully request that the Subcommittee do
not forget the practice of isolation concerning youth in juvenile detention, correctional facilities,
and in the adult system.
My name is Kim Brooks Tandy and I write to you as Executive Director of the Children’s
Law Center (CLC) in Covington, Kentucky. For over 20 years, CLC has focused on issues
involving children in custody and advocated for reducing incarceration rates and ensuring
humane and constitutional conditions in locked facilities. The juvenile system, unlike the adult
system, is based upon the premise that children are different, and that rehabilitation and
treatment are key to making positive changes. However, some youth are prosecuted as adults,
and may be placed in adult facilities. In either case, the population of young people in these
systems should garner special attention in any discussion about the use of solitary confinement
because their age, level of maturity, and social, psychological and moral development warrant a

different approach. In my testimony today, I will focus on conditions for youth in juvenile
corrections facilities and how the practice of isolating youth can be detrimental to the youth’s
development and reintegration into our communities.
Conditions in Juvenile Facilities Nationwide and In Ohio
Although I am primarily a litigator, I learned long ago that litigation does not in and of
itself bring about best practices; long term institutional changes need government leadership,
collaborative efforts, and research driven practices. Most recently, I have litigated conditions
cases on behalf of youth in the juvenile delinquency and adult criminal justice systems for the
last eight years in Ohio, where large scale reforms in the juvenile justice system have resulted in
reducing institutional placements by two-thirds, down from about 1,800 youth in juvenile
corrections facilities in 2008 to about 500 youth today. The state closed four of its eight juvenile
corrections facilities, and developed a continuum of care within local communities to keep youth
close to home and in less restrictive environments. Decision making has been driven in large
part by research-informed and evidenced-based programming that can reduce costs, and provide
better outcomes for youth, including an impressive initiative to keep youth who are mentally ill
out of institutional placement, where they are more likely to have their condition worsen, and
less likely to adapt to institutional rules.
In spite of impressive efforts to keep youth in their local communities, the reality in Ohio,
and throughout the country, is that many youth remain in secure correctional facilities that are illequipped to rehabilitate and improve the lives of these youth people. The reliance by state and
local agencies on incarceration as a means to rehabilitate youth and protect community safety is
increasingly being questioned as both counterproductive and costly.

Reports of pervasive

violence and abuse have been widespread, often resulting in years of litigation. A recent study

commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed that 57 lawsuits in 33 states plus the
District of Columbia had been filed in response to alleged abuse or otherwise unconstitutional
conditions in juvenile corrections facilities.1 Nearly all of these lawsuits included allegations of
systemic problems with violence, physical or sexual abuse by facility staff and/or excessive use
of isolation or restraint.2 An extensive review of recidivism studies compiled from this report
suggests that incarceration is no more effective than alternative sanctions, such as probation, in
reducing the criminal conduct of youth who have been adjudicated delinquent, and that the use of
incarceration actually exacerbates criminality.3

In spite of the proven success of many

community-based alternatives and evidence-based programs in lieu of incarceration, states
continue to incarcerate youth in programs that are often poorly designed and ill-equipped to
provide effective treatment. Treatment is particularly insufficient for youth with severe mental
health conditions, learning disabilities, significant substance abuse problems or other acute
It is against this backdrop that I wish to address the issue of solitary confinement among
youth in correctional facilities. I have interviewed dozens if not hundreds of youth in the last
eight years who have been held in isolation cells, often devoid of anything other than a toilet and
sink, mat, blanket, paper and pencil and a book. Some of these cells lack windows to provide
any outside light. By design, they are often stark, cold and lack any positive aesthetic qualities
for stimulation. Ohio, like a number of states, uses isolation not only for disciplinary purposes

Mendel, Richard A, No Place for Kids: The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration, The Annie E. Casey
Foundation (Baltimore, Maryland) 2011, p. 5.




Id. at 11. Mendel’s research was based on an extensive internet search and literature review in addition to
interviews and outreach with state corrections agencies. The research conclusions were based upon recidivism
analyses in 38 states and the District of Columbia.


Id at 22.

on a short term basis up to five days, but also operates two special management units that house
youth for longer periods – sometimes for years – for more serious behaviors. Not surprisingly,
the majority of these youth suffer from mental illness, some severe, before their placement in
these units, and then lack adequate programming and services while in isolation. Perhaps also
not surprisingly, most of these youth are non-White.
While many youth are isolated in juvenile facilities for shorter periods of time as a
disciplinary action, special units can operate to seclude youth for month or even years in
environments that fail to provide adequate means for behavioral health, education, recreation,
and positive human interactions generally.
My experience over the last twenty years in examining this issue suggests that while there
is a significant void in research on the harmful effects that isolation causes in the adolescent
population, even for short term use. However, much of what we know about the devastating
effects of solitary confinement with adults is likely to apply to youth, and the harm may well be
even greater for many reasons.
To understand one of the crucial differences, one need only look at the myriad of research
now available on the study of adolescent brain developmentthat has been recognized by the
United States Supreme Court to justify abolishment of the juvenile death penalty and life without
parole in certain cases. We know that adolescent brain is more moldable, and continues to be
shaped by environmental factors sculpted by the youth’s interactions with the outside world.
The brain’s malleability decreases with age, making it more difficult to reduce psychologically
damaging experiences. How likely it is, therefore, that the adverse effects of seclusion on youth
are potentially irreversible?
Isolation can Exacerbate a Youth’s Underlying Mental Health Issues

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s 2010 Survey of youth in the
“deep-end” of the system suggests that 70% of youth confined revealed they had “seen someone
injured or killed,” and 72% had “something very bad or terrible” happen to them.5 Additional
research has also shown that a significant proportion of juvenile offenders have a substantiated
history of child or adolescent maltreatment,6 and that at least three out of four youth in the
juvenile justice system have been the victim of traumatic victimization.7 Such traumatic
victimization has been linked to psychological disorders such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
and can cause the youth to develop ongoing difficulties with oppositional-defiance and
aggression.8 Exposure to trauma also slows down development and can cause disturbances of
emotional regulation, relationships, and communication. These youth are prone to engage in the
type of defiant behavior and rule breaking that result in their placement in punitive isolation.9 In
addition, research shows that youth who seem aggressive are prone to overreact to actions by
correctional officers as a perceived threat, typically because it is reminiscent of past


Survey for Residential Placement online database, available at

Swanston, Heather Y, Parkinson, Patrick N., O’Toole, Brian I., Plunkett, Angela M., Shrimpton, Sandra & R.
Kim Oates, Juvenile Crime, Aggression and Delinquency After Sexual Abuse: A Longitudinal Study, 43 Brit. J.
Crimnol 729 (2003).

Julian D. Ford, John Chapman, Judge Michael Mack & Geraldine Pearson, Pathways from Traumatic Child
Victimization to Delinquency: Implications for Juvenile and Permanency Court Proceedings and Decisions,
Juvenile and Family Court Journal 13, Winter 2006. [hereinafter “Pathways”].

Julian Ford, Traumatic Victimization in Childhood and Persistent Problems with Oppositional-Defiance, Journal
of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 6:1, 25-58, p. 26 [hereinafter “Persistent Problems”]


See Christopher A Cowles & Jason J. Washburn, Psychological Consultation on Program Design of Intensive
Management Units in Juvenile Correctional Facilities, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol 36, No.
1, 44-50, p. 45 (2005). (“Consequently, incarcerated juveniles who are disruptive or violent, regardless of their
mental health status, may be relegated to a facility’s disciplinary unit.”)

victimization.10 These youth do not see their responses as excessive, because they “have little
experience expressing their thoughts and resolving their feelings verbally rather than through
aggression,” and “may feel helpless about regulating their behavior.”11 Instead of helping youth
heal from the victimization that has traumatized them, aggressive juveniles are punished by
being placed in isolation for their misbehavior.
Adolescent depression may also cause symptoms that lead to the imposition of isolation.
Although several of the symptoms of depression are similar for adults and adolescents, including
depressed mood, hopelessness, and helplessness, depression may manifest differently in
teenagers.12 In fact, research indicates that irritability is the most common characteristic of
depression in young adults.13 The level of irritability a depressed youth exhibits increases as the
adolescent becomes more depressed.14 Adolescent depression can also create anger and hostility,
which “increases the likelihood that [depressed youth] with provoke angry responses from other
youth (and adults)” and “increase[s] the risk of altercations with other youth.”15 These behaviors
and attitudes often lead facility officials to respond to such behaviors by placing the youth in
isolation rather than treating the underlying causes of the behavior through behavioral health

Clinical Practice in Correctional Medicine, Michael Puisis, ed. Mosby: Philadelphia, 2006, p. 124. See also
Persistent Problems at 39, (“[T]hese children’s emotions and thought processes reflect a fearful and hypervigilant
concern with the possibility of severe danger. It is as if they view their lives as an almost constant effort to be
prepared for, and to survive, the reoccurrence of traumatic danger.”)



Marie Crowe, Nic Ward, Bronwyn Dunnachie & Morian Roberts, Characteristics of adolescent depression, 15
International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 10-18 (2006), at 15. [hereinafter “Adolescent Depression”]


Id. at 10.


Id. at 16.


Thomas Grisso, Adolescent Offenders with Mental Disorders, The Future of Children, Vol. 18, No. 2, Fall 2008, p

Isolation can also be especially agitating for youth with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder .16
While studies have shown that in the general school population only 2% to 10% of youth have ADHD,17
anywhere from 19% to 46% of youth in the juvenile justice system are thought to have ADHD.18 The
percentage of youth in isolation with ADHD maybe be higher, since juveniles with this disorder are more
likely to engage in the types of disruptive and impulsive behavior that are often sanctioned with seclusion
time.19 We know that patients who suffer with ADHD are unable to tolerate the “restricted environmental
stimulation” that is found in an isolation unit.20 This intolerance may cause an increased susceptibility to
psychopathological reactions while in isolation.21 Due to the prevalence of ADHD in the juvenile justice
population, one may question whether a significant number of youth who are subjected to isolation may
also face a higher risk of developing a psychiatric disturbance.
The majority of youth I have interviewed in long term isolation have self-reported diagnoses of
either ADHD and/or Bipolar Disorder. Often they have expressed concerns over the lack medical
therapy, or have questioned the types of medication they are given as ineffective or having adverse
effects. I have had youth indicate to me that they have been taken off medication altogether, or that the
medication that was working for them to treat symptoms of ADHD or Bipolar Disorder were not available
at the institution where they were housed. Youth have reported that they receive psychological services
“through their door” by a mental health professional, such that even contact by those most highly trained
individuals was impersonal and brief.

It is not a coincidence that programs which rely upon seclusion


Grassian, supra note 119, at 11.


Robert B. Rutherford Jr., Michael Bullis, Cindy Wheeler Anderson, and Heather M. Griller-Clark, Youth with
Disabilities in the Correctional System: Prevalence Rates and Identification Issues, July 2002 at 18.


Id. at 19.


See id. at 17-18, listing possible symptoms of ADHD.


Grassian at 11.


Id. at 12.

for behavioral controls in juvenile facilities also often lack adequate mental health and medical services
which could address problem behaviors more effectively.

Youth without Mental Health Diagnoses Prior to Isolation May Experience Psychological Harm 22
Research on the use of isolation on adults suggests that seclusion can cause severe psychiatric
harm even when the individual had no history of mental illness.23 In the most severe cases, adult inmates
subject to isolation have displayed “agitation, self-destructive behavior, and overt psychotic
disorganization.”24 More than half of the prisoners studied reported an inability to tolerate ordinary
stimuli; almost a third heard voices saying frightening things or bizarre noises, and more than half of the
inmates interviewed experienced severe panic attacks while in isolation.25 Many also described having
difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory, and almost half of the prisoners complained of
“intrusive obsessional thoughts, primitive aggressive ruminations and paranoid, persecutory fears.”26
Isolation is presumably even more damaging to juveniles because “the adolescent brain is more
highly moldable by experience than the adult brain.”27 Adolescence is a unique period of time for human
brain development, during which the circuits that coordinate human behavior are remodeled, shaping who
youth will become as adults and how their brains function.28 The majority of this “remodeling” is

See generally S. Grassian, Psychopathological Effects of Solitary Confinement, 140 American Journal of
Psychiatry 1450 (1983) [hereinafter “Grassian”]; C. Haney, Infamous Punishment: The Psychological Effects of
Isolation, 8 National Prison Project Journal 3 (1993); and C. Haney and M. Lynch, Regulating Prisons of the Future:
A Psychological Analysis of Supermax and Solitary Confinement, New York Review of Law & Social Change, 23,
477 (1997) [hereinafter “Haney”].

Grassian, supra note 119.








Aaron M. White, The Changing Adolescent Brain, Education Canada, Canadian Education Association at 5.
[hereinafter “Adolescent Brain”]


Id. at 6.

“influenced by an individual’s interactions with the outside world.”29 In other words, an adolescent’s
brain is essentially “sculpted by his or her interactions with the outside world.”30 Because adolescence is
a critical time in a youth’s brain development, using isolation on juveniles may have a profound
psychological impact on their entire lives. In fact, because the brain’s malleability decreases with age,
making it increasingly more difficult to heal, the adverse psychological effects of seclusion on juveniles
are potentially irreversible.31
Interviews I have conducted with youth in long term seclusion suggest that they lack a sense of
hope that they can change or improve their condition. One young person, when asked to tell me
something good about himself, replied, “lady, I’ve been locked up so long, there is nothing good about
me anymore.” He was 15. Others have expressed to me the fear of being around people and knowing
how to interact with them after being secluded for long periods of time. I have witnessed other youth who
shut out what little contact they have with the world outside of their room by placing paper on their
window because they no longer want to know what happens outside of their room or are fearful. I am not
a psychologist or psychiatrist, but having worked with youth in the delinquency system for more than 30
years, there have been few interviews that have affected me so profoundly as those done with youth in
long term isolation.

Youth Held is Isolation May Not Receive Adequate Education, Recreation or Necessary Services

Youth in isolation are frequently denied education or other services to which they are
entitled. Restricting the ability of youth to participate in education, recreation, group or social
skills, programs, or other interactions with youth can have a negative impact on their overall
progress in the facility. Requiring youth to miss school or other activities can also increase






depression and suicidal ideation and attempts.32
As with mental illness, the prevalence of learning disabilities and other education
disabilities is similarly disproportionate among confined youth.33 Educational achievement and
school success is also lower among youth who are incarcerated, with studies suggesting that
these youth perform, on the average, four (4) years below grade level, have a history of being
suspended from school, and have frequently been held back at least one grade.34 A significant
percentage of youth in detention and corrections facilities have disabilities that substantially
affect their education, and either have or should have been identified for special education. For
those youth already identified, up-to-date Individualized Education Plans under the Individuals
with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA)should be in place.

A child with a disability does not

lose the entitlement for special education and related services, even if excluded from school by
being housed in isolation. Nothing in the IDEA excludes from coverage, or diminishes the rights
of, children with education-related disabilities who are detained or incarcerated in delinquency
facilities. Taking any young person out of school in a detention or long-term incarceration
setting is inconsistent with care and rehabilitation, as well as a state statutory right to education.
Yet the reality exists that many youth in isolation do not receive adequate educational
programming. Many of my own clients, including a high percentage of those who have learning
disabilities or other educational disabilities, have been denied educational services while in
seclusion or given paperwork under their door that they were expected to complete on their own

Clinical Practice in Correctional Medicine, Michael Puisis, ed. Mosby: Philadelphia, 2006, p. 139.


Quinn, Mary Magee, Rutherford, Robert B., and Leone, Peter E., Osher, David, and Poirier, Jeffrey M., “Youth
with Disabilities in Juvenile Corrections,” Exceptional Children, Vol. 71, No. 3 (2005).


Krezmein, Michael P., Mulcahy, Candace A., & Leone, Peter E, “Detained and Committed Youth: Examining
Differences in Achievement, Mental health Needs and Special Education Status, Education and Treatment of
Children, Vol. 31, No 4, (2008)

without the assistance of teachers.
Recreation and other services are also more limited or non-existent. Youth clients have
expressed to me that “out of room” large muscle activity consists of pushups in their room or
being moved to another cell with a push up bar. Physical activity is critical to all individuals
who are incarcerated, but it is particularly important for adolescents who are still growing and
maturing physically as well as emotionally.
We do not ultimately know how youth are damaged by the unnecessary use of isolation or the
extent of this damage. Correctional facilities are not likely to open their doors to researchers to prove the
harm caused by practices which are utilized because programming and services are inadequate. This
issue has received little attention because youth in juvenile facilities have less of a voice, and they more
than likely lack access to counsel that can provide that voice for them.
There are many changes which can be made to policies and practices which can eliminate this
harmful practice. Facility closures and “right-sizing” our approach to incarceration – meaning only youth
who pose a significant threat to themselves or our community based on an individualized risk assessment
– are important steps. However, for those youth who are incarcerated, including those who because of
mental illness or other circumstances are more likely to be held in isolation, we need to take steps to
eliminate the harmful impact such practices instill. Youth sentences are shorter than adults in most cases.
The use of isolation practices neither improves their condition, nor enhances public safety in the
communities to which they return.
Thank you on behalf of the young people I represent for your attention and your willingness to
examine this important issue.