Federal court approves agreement and orders end to solitary confinement of juveniles in Illinois

May 4, 2015 11:30 am

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CHICAGO – Solitary confinement of juveniles held by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice is banned under a new Department policy recently approved by a federal court in Chicago as part of litigation brought by the ACLU of Illinois. Protracted isolation and solitary confinement long has been recognized as damaging, especially for those with mental illness. It also increases the risk of suicide. A recent analysis of detainees who attempted potentially fatal self-harm in New York City’s jails showed that nearly 50% of these incidents came from the 7% of the population who had been subjected to solitary confinement.

Experts long have been especially concerned about isolating juveniles, pointing to the long-lasting effect of such confinement. This concern is reflected in the order, approving a policy negotiated by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice and the ACLU, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly. It effectively ends solitary confinement for juveniles in Illinois.

Under some of the most critical rules in this new policy:

• Punitive isolation is not allowed.

• Youths separated from the general population for any non-punitive reason must be provided their ordinary education and mental health services.

• Youths separated for 24 hours or longer must be allowed out of their rooms, and provided an opportunity to interact with staff, for at least eight (8) hours each day.

“This is an historic development for juvenile justice in Illinios,” said Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel for the ACLU of Illinois who represents a class of all juveniles confined by the State in litigation challenging IDJJ conditions. “Under this new Department policy, juvenile solitary confinement will become a relic of the past.”

“The State, the court-appointed monitors, and the ACLU all recognized the damaging nature of solitary confinement and worked hard to bring this practice to an end,” said Kevin Fee, a lawyer at the Chicago office of Sidley Austin LLP, a cooperating counsel in the case.

The approval of the new policy is the latest development in a federal lawsuit, RJ v. Jones, seeking to improve conditions for young people confined at the state’s juvenile justice facilities. Under agreements previously reached between the IDJJ and the ACLU, the parties and court-appointed monitors have negotiated, and the court has approved, many other new Department policies on such issues as special education, individualized mental health services, and protection of LGBT youths. The agreements already have resulted in progress in many areas.

The new confinement policy, reached after long negotiations between the parties and court-appointed monitors, and review by Judge Kennelly, narrowly limits the circumstances when youths may be temporarily separated from the general population for purposes of safety. It also requires ongoing control and monitoring of such separation by licensed mental health professionals and facility and Department leadership.

“The Department should be proud of this agreement,” said Schwartz. “Ending solitary confinement is a mark of a forward-thinking agency that wants to help, not harm the youths in their custody.”

The ACLU is being assisted in the matter by cooperating attorneys Maja Eaton, Kevin Fee, and Joseph Dosch at Sidley Austin LLP.

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