May 6, 2013
The Colorado Department of Human Services (DHS) issued an investigation report last Friday citing numerous violations of child care regulations, including the use of solitary confinement on children, at El Pueblo Boys and Girls Ranch and ordering the facility to suspend operation of its so-called “reflection cottages.”
The investigation, which was prompted by an April 11 letter from the ACLU of Colorado, confirmed that children at the facility, including those with mental and developmental disabilities, were routinely confined in concrete rooms, called “reflection cottages” by the facility, against their will and denied access to educational programming and outdoor exercise for days and sometimes weeks at a time.
DHS ordered the facility to suspend operation of the “reflection cottages” until full compliance with all state rules and regulations is achieved and a “clinical and educational foundation” for their use is developed and approved, in advance and in writing, by the agency.
“We applaud the Department of Human Services for its swift and thorough response and for sending a clear message to El Pueblo and other facilities in the state that they cannot impose solitary confinement on children or deprive them of education and outdoor exercise,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein.
The DHS investigation confirmed the three main allegations made by the ACLU of Colorado. According to the report, “Based on interviews and observations, youth were often secluded, prohibited from interacting with others, had little educational programming, little clinical intervention, and no opportunity for recreation.”
Seclusion is defined by DHS as “placement of a youth alone in a room from which egress is involuntarily prevented.” DHS concluded that El Pueblo staff prevented children from leaving the rooms by threatening punishment and lost privileges, as well as by physically holding and blocking the doors.
Photos (1,2) of the “reflection cottages” taken during the investigation reveal desolate concrete rooms with no other feature than a slab for a bed. According to the report, “many of the rooms in the reflection cottages had the paint worn off of the door frames, on each side, at the height of the window suggesting many of the youth are standing behind the bedroom doors for extended periods of time.”
DHS child care regulations clearly prohibit seclusion of children “except in emergency situations and only after all less restrictive alternatives have been exhausted.” The rules also specify that seclusion should not exceed two hours except in the most extraordinary cases and should end when the emergency passes. The DHS investigation confirmed that El Pueblo had confined children, in non-emergency situations, for far longer than two hours, often as long as 7-14 days.
“We heard stories from so many children of hours and days spent staring at brick walls and reliving past traumas,” said Rebecca Wallace, ACLU staff attorney. “Following the decisive action taken by DHS, we are pleased that children will no longer be forced to relive their nightmares in solitary confinement at El Pueblo.”
Stories of Solitary Confinement from Children at El Pueblo
DHS Report of Investigation
Photos of the “reflection cottages”
ACLU of Colorado Demands DHS end Solitary Confinement of Children
More information on this case, including ACLU of Colorado’s two letters to DHS