Holder condemns solitary confinement of mentally ill youths

Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday condemned the use of solitary confinement for young people suffering from mental illnesses at juvenile detention centers.

Holder said the Justice Department is reviewing reports of juveniles, including those with disabilities, being confined in cells for as long as 23 hours a day, presenting risks of self-harm or suicide.

Even when that is not the case, solitary confinement can have lasting damage on youths, he said.

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“Solitary confinement can be dangerous, and a serious impediment to the ability of juveniles to succeed once released,” Holder said in a weekly video address. “At a minimum, we must work to curb the overreliance on seclusion of youth with disabilities.”

Holder’s remarks follow a push from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division for a federal court order barring the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) from secluding boys with mental health problems in the state’s correctional facilities.

The division in February also issued a formal “statement of interest” alleging excessive reliance on solitary confinement for disabled youth in Contra Costa County, Calif.

The agency argues the practices violate both the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), though Holder pointed to figures showing that almost half of the nation’s juvenile rehabilitation centers use some form of solitary confinement.

It is unclear if the agency’s actions and Holder’s remarks are meant as a precursor to regulations outlawing solitary confinement for youths with mental illness.

“Our nationwide effort to end the unnecessary or excessive seclusion of youth with disabilities will not be completed solely with one settlement or court filing,” the attorney general said.