ACLU-TN Joins Lawsuit Challenging Solitary Confinement of Youth

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
April 28, 2016 5:30 pm

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today joined a lawsuit challenging the use of extended solitary confinement for juveniles, particularly for pretrial detainees and children who suffer from mental illness. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 15-year-old pretrial detainee who was held in solitary confinement for five days at the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Facility.

“Solitary confinement is psychologically shattering, especially for youth. It stunts their social and physical development and creates lasting damage,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Mark J. Downton of Downton Clark, PLLC. “There is no way to describe locking a child in a concrete cell for 23 hours a day with nothing but a mattress and a toilet as anything other than cruel and unusual punishment.”

The federal lawsuit was filed on Monday, following five days during which the boy had been held in isolation in a concrete cell for 23 hours a day. For the first two days he was denied access to books, magazines, music, or other educational or recreational materials. The boy had been placed in solitary confinement because he had allegedly disrupted a classroom, “hollered,” “rapped,” and “flashed gang symbols.” The boy was never alleged to be a danger to himself or others.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on Monday. On Wednesday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against the Department of Children’s Services and the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center to end the boy’s solitary confinement.

Attorneys for the family seek to stop the use of solitary confinement for punitive or disciplinary reasons permanently both for the boy in this case as well as for other juveniles in pretrial detention or who suffer from mental illness.

“If you locked your child in a closet you would go to jail. The government cannot lock children in isolation like this with next to no standards or regulations,” said Thomas H. Castelli, American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee legal director. “Sometimes children make mistakes, and the best thing we can do for them is focus on rehabilitating them so that they can become productive members of society, not mistreating them and causing long-term damage.”

In addition to Downton and Castelli, the family is represented by ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Wesley B. Clark of Downton Clark, PLLC.

A copy of the complaint can be found here.

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