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Bill to Limit Juvenile Solitary Confinement Advances in Colorado House

The Colorado Legislature is considering a new bill to limit the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for children. (Manuel Faba Ortega/iStockphoto)
The Colorado Legislature is considering a new bill to limit the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for children. (Manuel Faba Ortega/iStockphoto)
April 28, 2016

DENVER - The state Legislature is considering a bill to limit the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for Colorado's youths. Despite a 1999 law banning seclusion, independent investigations have shown the Colorado Department of Youth Corrections has repeatedly put juveniles in isolation for days and weeks at a time.

Elise Logemann, executive director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center, said two separate investigations found the state's Department of Youth Corrections had repeatedly held kids in small rooms with only a metal bed frame, toilet and sink.

"We can't rely on the division to regulate itself," she said. "We really need a statute in place to ensure that we don't backslide the way that we did after this law was initially passed. By 2010, we had an illegal policy and by 2013 we were isolating kids for days and weeks at a time in violation of the law."

After Logemann's group and the ACLU of Colorado found violations in 2014, the department recommitted to ending the practice. But a year later, an investigation by the Colorado Springs Gazette reported 299 instances of illegal isolation. Opponents of House Bill 1328 have called the measure's reporting requirements "onerous" and claim the new policies already limit seclusion.

Logemann said positive reinforcement, strategic interventions for misbehavior and other proven practices are safer and more effective than isolation. She said nearly 60 percent of the children being held by the youth-corrections department suffer from mental illness, and the majority of suicides in juvenile correctional facilities occur when kids are put into solitary.

"Because it does cause detrimental harm to the mental health of children, and it's particularly difficult for children who already have mental-health issues," she added. "So to put them in isolation and subject them to risk of further aggravating those mental-health conditions is very dangerous for them."

HB 1328 narrowly cleared the House Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, and if it's passed by the full House, the measure could face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Senate.

The full bill can be read online here.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO