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Youth Locked-Up: Segregation Allowed in MI Facilities

Michigan youth in the adult correction system can be placed in segregation where there are no limits for length of stay. (Michael Coghlan/Flickr)
Michigan youth in the adult correction system can be placed in segregation where there are no limits for length of stay. (Michael Coghlan/Flickr)
December 21, 2015

LANSING, Mich. – With concerns about its damaging impact, states around the nation are reducing the use of solitary confinement for youth offenders.

But a report from the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest found that Michigan is one of 10 states that still allows indefinite solitary confinement for children.

In Michigan, any confinement over 72 hours requires written administrative approval.

Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children's Law and Policy, explains that just because a state has policies limiting the use of segregation, it's not always put into practice.

"In many places children are locked in their rooms as punishment for violating rules in the facility,” he points out. “They may also be locked in their room for convenience of the staff or other reasons. All those we call solitary confinement, whether it lasts for half an hour or 23 hours."

In Michigan, all 17-year-old offenders are tried as adults and placed in adult prisons where there are no limits for length of stay in segregation.

Soler says that because young people have the capacity to change and develop into responsible adults, offenders under age 18 should be held in juvenile facilities where there are more rehabilitative opportunities than in adult prison.

The report recommends youth in solitary confinement for more than one day should have access to education and other programming and be out of the room for at least eight hours a day.

Kristen Staley, deputy director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, contends policies in the adult prisons do not allow for that, and also don't restrict age.

"We've heard accounts of people staying in administrative segregation for months, sometimes up to years at a time, based on their behavior if they're at harm to themselves or to others, but it's not different based on age," she explains.

Soler adds that isolation should be banned because it damages a young person's development.

"Solitary confinement causes a variety of harms to children including psychological and emotional harm, increased anxiety, depression, psychosis on some children, increased risk of suicide and self-harm," he states.

In Michigan, there are efforts to reduce the use of administrative segregation for those 18 and under, and also to change the age a child can be tried as an adult from 17 to 18.

On Tuesday, part two of this series examines a package of legislative proposals called Youth in Prison.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI