Colorado Rights Blog

ACLU of Colorado By: ACLU of Colorado 4.6.2016

Fact Sheet: HB 1328 – A Bill to Protect Colorado’s Children from Solitary Confinement

Since 1999, Colorado law has prohibited the seclusion of children as punishment. Children may only be secluded during an ongoing emergency, when a child is in immediate danger of harming self or others.

In June 2014, the Colorado Department of Youth Corrections (DYC) was found to have repeatedly violated the law. An investigation by the ACLU, CJDC and Colorado Disability Law revealed DYC had illegally placed children in isolation for days, weeks, even more than a month as punishment when there was no emergency, as a form of “treatment.” DYC’s own policies condoned this illegal and misguided practice. Because of the investigation, DYC recommitted to following the law by ending its use of solitary confinement except in emergencies, and adopted a new policy to that effect.

In October 2015, DYC was again found to have repeatedly violated the law. After an in-depth investigation, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported 299 instances of youth isolation that occurred after DYC changed its policies. Some children had been held in solitary confinement for days, even when there was no emergency, in violation of the law and DYC’s own recent policy change.

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT HURTS CHILDREN

The reality of solitary confinement for children held by DYC is disgraceful. Youth in seclusion were held in tiny, barren rooms, with only a metal bed frame, toilet and sink. Blankets and mats were withheld except during sleeping hours. Children were expected to pass their days alone, quiet and bored.

Locking children in isolation is psychologically shattering and can cause permanent harm. Experts agree that at-risk youth, particularly those with a mental or developmental disability, are particularly susceptible to the negative mental health effects of isolation. Nearly 60% of the children committed to DYC’s care have mental illness. Further, the majority of suicides in juvenile correctional facilities occur during isolation.

There are better solutions than isolation. National evidence-based research shows that, with proper care, kids can be rehabilitated through positive reinforcement and immediate and proportional interventions to misbehavior. Locking kids in isolation makes it harder for them to recover and grow into productive adults.

WHY HB 1328 IS THE SOLUTION

It codifies current DYC policy and protects children from prolonged isolation. HB 1328 codifies current DYC policy limiting the use of seclusion and establishing procedures to be followed when a child is secluded for more than four hours. These procedures ensure that seclusion is justified by an emergency, and that the child is not having a mental health crisis requiring treatment rather than isolation.

It establishes transparency and oversight to ensure DYC follows the law. DYC has a history of violating state law limiting the use of seclusion on children, and DYC is not subject to most open records laws. Had HB 1328’s transparency and oversight provisions been in place over the last few years, DYC’s illegal use of seclusion would have been caught sooner and fewer children would have been harmed.

Colorado’s children need the protection of state law. DYC’s current leadership may be committed to keeping children out of prolonged solitary confinement, but this should not put the public at ease. DYC policies often change quickly and unilaterally, and leadership turnover is high. In the last two years, DYC has had three directors who made a total of 26 policy changes, with some policies changing more than once.

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