NewsCovering Louisiana


On heels of audit, bill aims to reduce juvenile isolation

Prison bars
Posted at 1:02 PM, Apr 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-26 14:02:55-04

A day after the Legislative Auditor reported issues with the use of isolation in youth prisons, a legislator says he's introducing a bill to restrict its use.

Yesterday, the Legislative Auditor released an audit done at the instruction of the Legislature. It found issues with record-keeping, rules and rule-following. To read about it, click here.

"More than half of the suicides that happen in youth prisions occur during solitary confinement. Known by several names (room confinement, room isolation, protective isolation, administrative segregation), juvenile solitary confinement is a dangerous, abusive, and ineffective practice," says a release from the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights. "Most rooms inside youth prisons can easily fit inside a mall parking lot space. While in juvenile solitary confinement, youth are confined to this space for days and even weeks at a time without social interaction or without mentally-stimulating activities."

State Rep. Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans) has filed House Bill 746, which would restrict the use of juvenile solitary confinement to eight hours at a time and only for youth at risk of causing imminent physical harm. If passed, this bill would also require the Office of Juvenile Justice to swiftly inform the parents and attorney of its use as well as require the agency to record and track its use. Currently, it is assigned to the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice.

“Juvenile detention in general, whether it's a detention center or secure care, is about rehabilitation. Studies have shown, data has shown that the use of solitary confinement can cause significant harm, psychological harm to young people. So, I think if our goal is to rehabilitate then, I don't know where solitary confinement fits into that knowing the harms of solitary confinement and what it can cause psychologically, emotionally to a young person who's not fully developed,” Duplessis said.

Monica Stevens, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Tulane University adds that “this is a step in the right direction because we’ve got to have more rules and regulations over [juvenile solitary confinement] because we are still dealing with very much developing minds and human beings. I've seen kids come back from solitary confinement, especially after knowing them before they went, come back significantly traumatized showing clear symptoms of an exacerbated psychiatric state.

“I understand that the juvenile justice system wants to keep their staff safe. I appreciate that very much as a person that's been a clinical director, and a staff psychologist at multiple psychiatric settings for kids who are coming back from incarceration. I can say you're returning kids back in a completely dysregulated and unsafe manner.

When they've experienced lockup period, much less solitary confinement, so it's exacerbating a problem. The other piece is that what are we going to do if this is our solution to managing unsafe behavior… but punishment to this degree is not teaching any skills. It's further traumatizing kids. It probably is also traumatizing staff who have to handle this. When these kids inevitably leave the system, we've not rehabilitated on any level. In fact, we've done more harm.”

The Marshall Project recently found that the majority of death row prisoners they interviewed had traumatic experiences in youth prisons, including long stints in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement affects marginalized youth at a disproportionate rate. Black youth are systematically profiled and targeted by police, and make up 35% of arrests of people under 18; are twice as likely to be arrested as white youth; disproportionately tried as adults; twice as likely to be sentenced to life without parole; five times as likely to be incarcerated or committed; and more likely to be sent to adult facilities, and to be held in solitary confinement. Disabled youth enter the system at 5 to 6 times the rate of nondisabled youth, and LGBTQ youth are disproportionately incarcerated in juvenile detention facilities, according to the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL).

“Juvenile prisons need to invest more in strategies for de-escalating tensions through improved staff training, stronger behavior management plans, interactive and engaging educational programming, better mental health support, and culture change from the management level on down so that solitary is no longer an acceptable tool for dealing with problematic behavior," Rachel Gassert, Policy Director at the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights. "We must put an end to juvenile solitary confinement for the sake of our children and our communities.”