Colorado Rights Blog

Rebecca T. Wallace By: Rebecca T. Wallace 4.18.2013

Stories of Solitary Confinement from Children at El Pueblo

April 18, 2013

Since the ACLU of Colorado publicly demanded that the Department of Human Services (DHS) put an end to solitary confinement of children at El Pueblo Boys and Girls Ranch, several children have come forward to tell us about their experiences in so-called “reflection cottages” at El Pueblo.

In these “reflection cottages,” children are secluded, in violation of DHS regulations, in small concrete rooms with no other feature than a concrete slab for a bed. Children can leave the room only with permission and for short periods of time to use the bathroom and shower. Children in solitary confinement at El Pueblo are denied the opportunity to go to school, to speak with other kids, and to spend time outdoors.

These are a few of their stories. Names have been withheld to protect their identities.

Child One

Child One is 13 years old. He is in state custody after having suffered severe physical and emotional abuse by his parents. He has been diagnosed with serious mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder and reactive attachment disorder.

When he arrived at El Pueblo last summer, he was immediately taken to a “reflection cottage,” where he spent three weeks in solitary confinement.

During that time, he spent virtually the entire time sitting on a concrete slab, bored and angry. He was given no homework and ate all of his meals alone. While in seclusion, he could not stop his mind from replaying the trauma of his childhood.

“It was hard being in there. It stressed me out a lot. It reminded me of when I was six and with my parents. They would lock me in the basement or a closet. First they would lock me, and then they would take me out to beat me, then lock me back until I was healed. One time I was in the closet for six or seven days. My mother would sneak me bread and cheese. That is what I thought about in the reflection cottage.”

Child Two

Child Two is a developmentally disabled 16-year-old boy with an IQ of 60. When he was 14 years old, he was placed at El Pueblo by the Department of Human Services. El Pueblo immediately put him in solitary confinement and left him there for over a month. During that time, he did not go to school, he did not go outdoors, and he became enraged in his solitude.

“They didn’t let me go to school at all. I stayed in my room and slept. There was nothing in my room besides concrete.”

His mom became worried that solitary confinement was hurting her child after he called her and said, “Mom, I’m gonna go crazy. I gotta get out of this room.”

Frequently, the child would ask permission to go to the bathroom and then refuse to go back to the room. Insistent on isolation, El Pueblo staff would restrain the child and forcibly place him in his room.

His mom remembers, “The more he stayed locked in there, the more he acted out.” She went to the facility to give her son comfort, but El Pueblo refused to let her see him while he was held in solitary confinement.

Child Three

Child Three has suffered a long history of sexual and physical abuse. When she was 16 years old, she was placed at El Pueblo by the Department of Human Services.

She suffers from diabetes and has occasionally refused to take her medication. When she refused her medication at El Pueblo, she reports that they put her in solitary confinement for over a month. During that time, she did not go to school and was given no school work. She sat in her concrete room.

“I got frustrated. I felt like nobody was listening. Nobody was there to help. I just kind of stood there all day and stared at a brick wall and thought about a time when I was ten and my dad punished me by locking me in my room when I told the truth – that my grandfather had sexually abused me.”

Child Three is now doing well at a residential treatment facility that does not place children in solitary confinement.

DHS rules 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. Clearly El Pueblo routinely violates these DHS rules designed to protect the emotional and physical health of children.

The ACLU sent a letter last week to DHS Executive Director Reggie Bicha calling on the department 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. The letter requests a response by Monday, April 22.

Read more about this case, including our letter to DHS.

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