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ACLU Demands DHS End Solitary Confinement of Children

April 11, 2013

ACLU Demands Department of Human Services End Solitary Confinement of Children in Pueblo Residential Treatment Center

Prolonged seclusion of children at El Pueblo Boys and Girls Ranch violates Department’s child care regulations

DENVER – In a letter sent today, the ACLU of Colorado (ACLU) demanded that the Colorado Department of Human Services (DHS) enforce its own regulations by stopping a Pueblo residential treatment center from imposing solitary confinement on children entrusted to its care.

The letter, directed to DHS Executive Director Reggie Bicha, called for “immediate action” to stop what the ACLU called a routine practice at El Pueblo Boys and Girls Ranch, where at-risk children are confined in so-called “Reflection Cottages,” in direct violation of DHS regulations.

“El Pueblo is routinely forcing children, many of whom suffer from developmental and mental disabilities, to endure days and sometimes weeks of solitary confinement in so-called ‘reflection cottages,’” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. “In doing so, this facility is violating DHS regulations, court decisions, and widely-accepted standards for the treatment of troubled youth.”

El Pueblo’s “Reflection Cottages” are small concrete rooms with no furniture, other than a concrete slab that serves as a bed. Children are forbidden to speak with others and must ask permission to use the bathroom. Children are not allowed to go outside or given the opportunity to exercise.

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. According to the ACLU’s letter, however, El Pueblo routinely forces each child entering the program to spend at least two days in solitary. Children are often confined for additional time in the “Reflection Cottages” for days and sometimes even weeks as punishment for minor infractions, such as verbal disrespect of a staff member.

According to the ACLU, forcing children to endure solitary confinement poses significant mental and emotional risks to troubled children, who have fewer psychological resources than adults to manage the stress, anxiety, and discomfort of such intense isolation. This is particularly true for the many young persons at El Pueblo who suffer from developmental and mental disabilities.

The ACLU’s letter calls on DHS to either bring El Pueblo into full compliance with state regulations or rescind the facility’s license to operate as a residential child care facility.

“El Pueblo presents itself to the outside world as a treatment community that helps at-risk youth to heal, learn, and grow,” adds Silverstein. “Confining troubled children for days and weeks in bare concrete isolation rooms does not promote healing.”

More information on this case.

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