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Ohio Agrees to Phase Out Solitary Confinement as Punishment in Youth Prisons

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 10:34 PM

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The state of Ohio has agreed to phase out the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for kids in its correctional facilities. The U.S. Department of Justice and private plaintiffs had sued the state over what they said were violations of the juveniles’ constitutional rights. Ideastream’s Joanna Richards reports.

The Justice Department sought to end what it claimed was excessive and harmful use of seclusion of mentally ill youth. But the settlement goes further, with the state agreeing to phase out solitary confinement as a punishment for any children in prison.

The plan calls for more mental health services, too, since mental illness is often a factor in the behavior problems that land kids in solitary, and seclusion often worsens their condition.

“These children are going to come back into our lives,” said Eve Hill, with the Justice Department’s civil rights division. “And so we really need to make sure that incarceration of young people is used to rehabilitate them, not just to warehouse and forget them – and certainly not to damage them in ways that make them less and less able to participate in our communities in a positive way.”

“We don’t believe that seclusion has been effective, and that’s why we want to make this change,” said Kim Parcell Jump, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Youth Services. She says the department is adjusting its strategy to manage behavior problems and violence, with better staff training and more focus on prevention.

“We’re able to focus on our primary mission of rehabilitating youth,” she said.

The facilities will still be able to seclude kids immediately following violent incidents, as a cooling-off period until it’s safe to release them. But the confinements will be shorter and closely monitored.

The Department of Justice found kids in Ohio’s prisons in 2013 spent almost 60,000 hours in solitary confinement, with some spending as much as 40 percent of their time secluded.

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