Texas Lawmaker Proposes Restriction of Solitary Confinement for Juveniles

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Barbed wire around juvenile detention center

Ryan Schill/JJIE

Juvenile detention center solitary confinement

Ryan Schill / JJIE

Legislators in Texas heard a proposal Tuesday from Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte that would limit solitary confinement throughout the state’s juvenile detention facilities, the Associated Press reports.

“You might think that nobody puts a kid in seclusion for more than 48 hours,” Van de Putte told the Associated Press. “But it happens.”

The proposed bill would restrict solitary confinement to just four hours, with exceptions for several “major rule violations,” which include assault and attempts at escape.

According to state records, there were more than 35,000 incidents in 2012 in which juveniles in Texas facilities were placed in solitary confinement. Currently, counties in Texas, with very little oversight from the state’s Juvenile Justice Department, are allowed to establish their own definitions of what constitutes severe rule violations; in some facilities, youths are placed in confinement for activities such as note passing.

While several mental health and civil rights advocates have shown support for the legislation, some juvenile justice officials defended the use of solitary confinement, citing the practice as a vital disciplinary procedure.

During questioning by Van de Putte, Guadalupe County Detention Services Manager Paul Smith said horseplay was a violation severe enough to warrant placement in isolation.

“It can be dangerous,” he said, stating that it could result in an escalated conflict and possibly a fight between inmates.

Texas state Senate Criminal Justice Committee chairman John Whitmire said he also had concerns about the proposed legislation.

“Some of the dudes that they’re dealing with are some really dangerous, disturbed young people,” he said, according to the AP report.

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