In today’s Washington Post, President Obama reminds us of Kalief Browder, a young man who was crushed by the weight of his experience with the criminal justice system, and invokes Kalief’s story as he announces historic federal action to end the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) report that Obama refers to contains a number of Guiding Principles for all adult corrections facilities, and there are two recommendations specific to juveniles housed in adult facilities. The first one states that juveniles ought not be placed in restrictive housing. The second one reads:
In very rare situations, a juvenile may be separated from others as a temporary response to behavior that poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm to any person. Even in such cases, the placement should be brief, designed as a “cool down” period, and done only in consultation with a mental health professional.
This aligns with the settlement language of a federal case against agencies in Contra Costa County, California on behalf of young people in the county’s secure juvenile facility. Both the DOJ and the Department of Education were active in that case, filing a Statement of Interest in the months preceding settlement. As part of the settlement agreement, Contra Costa County abolished isolation practices in its secure juvenile facilities.
The plaintiffs in that case presented evidence that their experiences in solitary confinement were degrading, dangerous, and traumatic. Here’s where things get really interesting: their legal case was built entirely around allegations of denials of education services. If that doesn’t quite make sense to you yet, it will soon. Continue reading