COLUMBUS – Ohio stands out as a leader in reducing the use of solitary confinement as punishment in youth correctional facilities. A survey from national law firm Lowenstein Sandler finds 10 other states still allow juvenile justice centers to use solitary confinement indefinitely to punish children.
Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, calls Ohio a model for other states.
“During the past year, Ohio has reduced the use of solitary confinement by 95 percent in their state commitment facilities,” says Soler. “The bottom line is that everybody with common sense understands that you don’t help a child by locking them in a room for an extended period of time.”
The changes came as a result of a 2004 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding questionable practices at the state’s juvenile correctional facilities, including seclusion for kids with mental health needs.
According the survey, 21 states now prohibit punitive isolation, and 20 others impose time limits.
Executive director of the Juvenile Justice Coalition in Ohio, Erin Davies, says solitary confinement is very damaging, particularly for youth who are still growing and able to change behaviors.
“Their brains are developing, and so as we all know when we were teenagers brains develop best in a kind of social environment,” says Davies. “And when you’re in solitary, you don’t really have access to that type of environment.”
Davies adds that advocates will continue to work with the state to improve juvenile justice policies.
“The research in the past 10 years has really improved, and now we know what works for youth in the system,” she says. “And so I think it’s really getting policy makers and stakeholders to align our practices with what we know works, which is also less expensive and more effective for youth.”
This month, a federal judge ended the court-ordered oversight of the juvenile prison system in Ohio, a sign of the progress made in the past decade.