ACLU Finds Dangerous Overuse of Solitary Confinement for Nebraska Youth
Some facilities send young people to solitary for as long as three months, despite medical evidence that extreme isolation can permanently damage adolescents’ brains.
LINCOLN, Neb – Today the ACLU of Nebraska released Growing Up Locked Down: Juvenile Solitary Confinement in Nebraska. The report presents first of its kind comprehensive research regarding solitary confinement in Nebraska county and state facilities. The ACLU found that a young person in some Nebraska youth facilities can be held in solitary confinement for as long as 90 days. Mental health experts have found that the depriving young people of contact with others for over 4 hours can have devastating long-term impacts on children’s health and wellbeing. Placing a juvenile in solitary confinement leads to psychological damage, increase suicide rates, hampered educational outcomes, and overall stunted development.
“Before they are old enough to get a driver’s license, enlist in the armed forces or vote, some children in Nebraska are held in solitary confinement for days, weeks, even months. As the stories in our report show, the youth placed in solitary confinement are often in need of support – not a cage. The experts agree – what Nebraska is doing is harmful to youth and does nothing to improve public safety. This research makes clear that the polices and usage for solitary confinement among vulnerable Nebraskans truly shocks the conscience. We can and must do better,” said Danielle Conrad, ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director.
The research conducted by the ACLU looked at solitary confinement in five county facilities and two state facilities from 2014 to 2015. In addition to evaluating the polices and usage logs for solitary confinement in these facilities the ACLU has also been in contact with Nebraskans who experienced the system and these destructive punitive methods first hand. Among the personal stories included in the report is that of Jacob Rusher who spent time in solitary confinement on three separate occasions as a teen, on one occasion for defending himself when older kids tried to bully him.
“It was 23 hours a day alone, no TV or radio,” Rusher says in the report. “You were in there with one book, a blanket, a mat and a toothbrush…you’re a kid, you don’t even know how to deal with normal emotions yet—then you’re sitting there by yourself, nowhere to go and every negative thing you’ve been told about yourself seems to be coming true…they go to the system for correction—they go in as sheep—and they come out as wolves. If a factory pumped out a bad product over and over again, you wouldn’t blame the product, you’d go back to the factory and try to fix that instead.”
The ACLU found a wide range of policy and practice across the facilities it studied. Among the findings of most concern:
- Douglas County and Scotts Bluff County lack systems to track or log the amount of time spent in solitary confinement.
- Sarpy County has no written policy governing use of solitary confinement.
- Lancaster County permits use of solitary for rule violations such as “too many books in room” or “digging for cookies.”
- Nebraska Department of Corrections permits use of solitary for up to 90 days when experts agree that lasting damage to a young person happens after 4 hours.
- Northeast Nebraska Juvenile Services permits use of solitary for up to 9 days.
- Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services facilities permits the use of solitary for up to 5 days.
Among the reforms suggested in the report:
- Joining the growing number of states banning solitary confinement for youth.
- Limiting solitary confinement to a last-resort and for no more than 4 hours.
- Providing due-process and an appeals process.
- Requiring facility director permission for placement of a youth beyond four hours and mandatory mental health assessments of youth placed in solitary for this period.
- Mandatory reporting for facilities use of solitary.
- Mandatory staff training on alternatives to solitary.
“The ACLU of Nebraska calls for an end to this abhorrent practice. However, while our position is unequivocal we understand that change does not happen easily or overnight. Thus, we urge at the very least that our state should establish basic state level oversight over when and how vulnerable youth are placed in solitary confinement. We must come together to remedy this situation with all deliberate speed in order to protect vulnerable youth, mitigate legal liabilities, and ensure a safer and brighter future for all Nebraskans,” said Conrad.
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