Tuesday, August 01, 2017
Teens in solitary
Upstate county slammers are finding themselves in deep doo-doo for routinely tossing teens into solitary for extended periods of time. The practice was banned on the federal level and now it is time to stop it on the state level.
In late June, the New York Civil Liberties Union and a public defenders group in Syracuse settled a class-action lawsuit with officials at the Onondaga County jail, who agreed to stop placing 16- and 17-year-old inmates into solitary confinement. Last week, working alone, the public defenders group, Legal Services of Central New York, sued officials at the Broome County jail, saying the sheriff and other jail officials routinely locked young inmates into 8-by-10 foot cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes for weeks on end.Why wait for a conviction, begin their punishment as soon as they are inside.
The inmates were left with “no meaningful human interaction, no education or programming, no music or television, and limited reading materials,” the suit says.
A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is especially damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.
In the last few years, federal officials have wrested similar agreements on ending the placement of young inmates in solitary confinement at local jails in Baltimore; Jefferson County, Ala.; Hinds County, Miss., and at Rikers Island in New York. Under a settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which was reached at the end of 2015 and is still being put into effect, the State Department of Corrections has agreed to stop putting juvenile inmates into solitary confinement at all state prisons.
Lawyers for the teenage inmates in Onondaga and Broome Counties said the vast majority had been placed in solitary as a punishment even before their trials and had been held there, in some cases for extended periods, without having been convicted of a crime.
“Despite an emerging consensus that solitary confinement places juveniles at risk of serious harm — including suicide, psychosis and post-traumatic stress disorder — and despite a national abandonment of the solitary confinement of juveniles, the Broome County Sheriff’s Office has embraced the frequent and arbitrary use of solitary confinement,” the most recent lawsuit said. “As the Sheriff’s Office is well aware, these practices are exposing the young people held at the jail to serious harm.”
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