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Calls Made for Limits on Solitary Confinement of Youth in Kentucky

A juvenile expert calls on Kentucky to put reasonable limits on solitary confinement of juveniles. (Greg Stotelmyer)
A juvenile expert calls on Kentucky to put reasonable limits on solitary confinement of juveniles. (Greg Stotelmyer)
December 22, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. - A juvenile-justice expert in Kentucky says it's "not smart" that 10 states, including Kentucky, do not limit how much time juvenile offenders can be punished in solitary confinement.

That failure to limit punitive isolation is a key finding in a new report generated by pro bono work at the law firm Lowenstein Sandler. Preston Elrod, a professor in Eastern Kentucky University's School of Justice Studies, said a lack of restrictions on solitary "makes problems worse."

"Worse for kids, worse for families, worse for communities," he said. "When we put kids in solitary confinement, even kids who are psychologically healthy, we know that it can be harmful."

Research has found that confinement of kids increases both recidivism and suicide. The new report showed that rules on the practice vary widely with 20 states setting restrictions, including time limits, while 21 states prohibit confining a youth to punish them. However, most allow isolation for other reasons.

Elrod said Kentucky needs to get off the list of 10 states without limits by setting "reasonable rules," preferably through legislation.

"If we don't put limits on this kind of thing, it will invariably be overused," he said. "The default way of dealing with children, when we're having problems with them, has always been to punish them."

Elrod said the state also needs to invest in more training and better pay for those who work with juvenile offenders.

Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for Children's Law and Policy, said that even a short period of time in isolation is damaging, with the young offender left in a small, bare room with nothing to do but stare at the door.

"When children are put into solitary confinement," he said, "they are usually not provided with adequate mental health or substance-abuse treatment or appropriate educational supports."

A bipartisan effort is under way in Washington to limit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal facilities.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY