Unlocking Youth: New Report on Ending Youth Solitary

Juvenile Law Center,
Infographic of solitary confinement facts.

Yesterday, Juvenile Law Center released a new report on solitary confinement in youth prisons and legal strategies to end the practice nationwide. Juvenile Law Center surveyed public defenders and interviewed youth, their families, and correctional facility administrators to shed light the reality of youth solitary confinement.

The report, Unlocking Youth: Legal Strategies to End Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Facilities, fills knowledge gaps about kids’ treatment and experience of solitary and includes reform recommendations ranging from policy reform to community partnerships. The report highlights Juvenile Law Center’s survey results, in addition to presenting comprehensive legal and psychological research. The report debuted at a Congressional briefing on August 2.

More and more people agree that solitary confinement hurts kids and goes against the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system. However, Juvenile Law Center’s research revealed that solitary is still too common. Almost half of youth prisons report isolating kids to control their behavior. More than two-thirds of public defenders responding to the survey reported having clients who spent time in solitary. The conditions kids face in solitary are truly appalling: no mattresses or sheets to sleep on, no showers, no eating utensils, and no mental health treatment.

Juvenile Law Center’s research findings also showed that:

  • Solitary harms kids. Neurological research and sociological studies confirm that common sense tells us about holding kids in solitary: isolation for days or weeks at a time has devastating long-term effects on kids’ health and development.

  • Solitary is unfairly applied. Youth of color and LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk of being put in solitary. Solitary can re-traumatize youth, especially girls and gender-nonconforming youth who are more likely to have histories of sexual abuse and other trauma before they enter the juvenile justice system.

  • Solitary is unnecessary and counterproductive. There is no evidence that using solitary increases safety in a youth prison and, in fact, the practice could increase violence. The report highlights Ohio and Massachusetts, both have drastically limited the practice.

11 Legal Strategies for Reform

The report details 11 legal strategies in four categories:Right now, there’s an urgent need for reform to end solitary confinement for kids. Juvenile Law Center’s report, Unlocking Youth, includes legal strategies to end solitary confinement in youth prisons. Legal advocacy can be a powerful tool for change, whether it’s in the form of policy reform, civil litigation, or legal defense in individual cases.

  1. Policy reforms: Ensure that policies prohibit solitary confinement, rather than alter or amend policies on the practice. Reforms must include a ban on solitary with clear limits on use in emergency situations. 

  2. Litigation strategies for attorneys and advocates: making child-specific constitutional claims, bring education claims to end solitary, and challenge discriminatory practices and policies.

  3. Strong juvenile defense: ensure post-disposition representation, ask youth and families targeted questions, visit facilities, obtain court orders for appropriate services and support, file licensing complaints and grievances, partner with local advocates and organizations on systemic reforms.

  4. Community partnerships: work with youth, parents, and other community advocates to identify abuse, shape broad reform efforts, and elevate important non-legal issues.

Our biggest effort was to get out staff to treat these kids like they are our kids. Once they did that, it got embedded in what we do every day, and that has been a game-changer.

What You Can Do to Help

Right now, there’s a national movement to end solitary for kids. You can help by sharing the report in your networks. Make sure your local, state, and federal representatives know that you care about this issue: call or email their offices and tell them you don’t want any child to be held in solitary confinement.

Download and share the report >>

Download social media content >>

Finally, you can get involved by funding Juvenile Law Center’s work. Your support means we can keep advocating on behalf of youth to end solitary confinement for kids. Click here to donate >>