March 23, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A federal judge today granted a preliminary injunction in an American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee lawsuit challenging the use of solitary confinement for juveniles. The injunction prohibits the county from subjecting children in its detention facility to solitary confinement as punishment while the case proceeds.

The lawsuit was originally 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. It is now a class action seeking to end the practice of solitary confinement for all juveniles in the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Facility.

"Being locked in a concrete cell alone for 23 hours a day with nothing but a mattress and a toilet can create lasting damage for a young person's psychological, social and physical development," said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Mark J. Downton of Downton Clark, PLLC. "We are pleased that the court has recognized that subjecting young people to solitary confinement for disciplinary purposes is inhumane."

The federal lawsuit was filed last April in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, 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.

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.

"Discipline for children should be focused on helping them grow into productive adults, not subjecting them to possibly irreparable damage," said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. "Our juvenile justice system should reject this draconian practice and focus on rehabilitating young people so that they can become productive members of society."

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

The court’s memorandum granting the preliminary injunction can be found here.

The preliminary injunction can be found here.

The complaint can be found here.

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