Reform advocates declared victory today after Wisconsin agreed to shutter two troubled detention centers and take steps advocates hope will drag its juvenile justice system into the 21st century.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced today that his administration will close the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls and build at least five new detention centers that will “align with nationally recognized best practices.”
Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch published a new report titled “Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States.”
The publication involved interviews with more than 125 juveniles in 19 states, alongside detention officials in 10 states. The authors of the report argue that solitary confinement harms young people mentally and physically, with juveniles frequently denied access to medical, rehabilitative and psychological treatments and services while in confinement. Furthermore, the report alleges that in jails and prisons across the United States, young people are routinely subjected to extensive stays in solitary confinement -- in some cases, for weeks and even months at a time. “Solitary confinement of adolescents is unnecessary,” the report reads. “There are alternative ways to address the problems -- whether disciplinary, administrative, protective or medical -- which officials typically cite as justifications for solitary confinement.”
The authors of the report state that approximately one third of the young people they interviewed reported being held in solitary confinement for one to six months before turning 18.
CHICAGO -- Even as national organizations rallied this week to end solitary confinement for incarcerated juveniles across the country, the local branch of American Civil Liberties Union is working with prison officials and the federal court to focus on the issue here. The goal: settle a lawsuit on behalf of 2,217 incarcerated youth with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Corrections over the system’s inadequate services and often-hostile environment. A preliminary agreement calls for curbing the growing practice of solitary confinement in youth centers, which activists say constitutes “torture,” given its potential for causing long-lasting psychological harm. The proposed settlement, which is due for a fairness hearing in federal court in Chicago on December 6, would be the latest victory in a larger movement to end the punitive isolation of youth in custody. In June, Congress held its first hearing on the issue of solitary confinement within U.S. prisons, where roughly 80,000 inmates are in “restricted housing“ at any given time nationwide, according to a 2005 census of adult inmates by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Nine years since it was first petitioned to do so by families of people behind bars, the Federal Communications Commission appears closer to imposing a limit on the soaring rates some prisoners have to pay to make interstate telephone calls. It won’t say when it will take action, however. The FCC’s consumer advisory committee submitted a list of recommendations last month urging the FCC to ensure that prices for phone calls from prison are kept to “reasonable” levels. And both the FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn have come out in support of limiting charges by private companies holding monopolies over prison telephone service in many states. The push to cap prison phone rates started when Martha Wright, a grandmother who could not afford to call her grandson when he was incarcerated, filed a petition in 2003 asking the FCC to take regulatory action.
CHICAGO -- The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch published a stinging indictment Wednesday against the use of solitary confinement on minors – adding momentum to a lawsuit filed here last month claiming youth were locked in tiny, haunting cells for brushes as minor as speaking out of turn to a guard or disrupting a meal. Wednesday’s 141-page report, which captured harrowing accounts from youngsters locked in solitary for up to months at a time, if not longer, called for an end to the practice, the exploration of remedial alternatives and changes to state and federal laws that currently allow for the practice. Solitary -- according to the report’s interviews with prison officials and 125 minors from 19 states, including visits to facilities in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania -- can cause irreparable harm to a minor’s psychological makeup at the very time their minds are maturing. Just as troubling, according to the report and experts in the field, solitary can re-traumatize juveniles who have grown up with abusive and violent pasts. “The hardest thing about isolation is that you are trapped in such a small room by yourself,” according to a March interview in the report with a Michigan inmate identified as Paul K. “There is nothing to do so you start talking to yourself and getting lost in your own little world.
A conservative think tank in Texas and the ACLU may seem to have little in common. But they and other conservative, liberal and nonpartisan groups are working — successfully — on juvenile justice law changes that are putting minors firmly in juvenile court, out of incarceration with adults and in community-based rehabilitation. “There’s a great opportunity for collaboration across the aisle on this issue,” said Marc Levin, senior policy advisor at Right on Crime. The Right on Crime initiative started in 2010 inside Austin’s Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think tank. Right on Crime evaluates adult and juvenile corrections reforms through a lens of effectiveness and cost savings and promotes its findings in other states. For the last few years, as state revenues shrink and budgets must be slashed, the Texans’ money-saving ideas are catching more ears.