States Moving Away from Solitary Confinement—PbS Offers Tools to Help

Posted by Lisa Martinek
March 24, 2014

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) recently released an article on the growing trend of state juvenile correction agencies moving away from the use of solitary confinement. The article conducts interviews with agency leaders from states including Massachusetts, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Alaska and Connecticut who explain how and why they are changing the practice of isolating a youth as a form of punishment. 

Stephanie Bond, acting director of the West Virginia Department of Juvenile Services, explains that her department has worked with the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA) and Performance-based Standards (PbS) to address the issue of solitary confinement in the state. Peter Forbes, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, CJCA member and PbS participant, agrees with experts who say programming that engages youths can help avoid overuse of room confinement and help with rehabilitation.

Ned Loughran, executive director of CJCA, points out how changes in practice are created using PbS – a data-driven improvement model grounded in research that holds juvenile systems to the highest standards of operations, programs and services:  “You can’t change what you don’t measure. So states that are being successful [in moving away from solitary] are the states that are measuring the use of isolation, then analyzing its use, developing facility-improvement plans to develop steps to reduce the use of isolation.”

“The state agencies that have successfully eliminated and reduced the use of isolation and room confinement have three things in common: strong leadership, effective training resources and a commitment to hold staff accountable with data,” said Kim Godfrey, executive director of PbS, which works with the state agencies in West Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Alaska and Connecticut. “It is not easy to change culture, which is what these leaders are doing. PbS is very proud to help support the work.”

PbS offers a way for jurisdictions to measure the use of isolation and confinement and provides reports for analysis as well as improvement planning technology. PbS’ national standards establish the highest expectations for facility conditions and quality of life and PbS facilities measure operations, programs and services twice a year to continually monitor safety, security, behavior management, family connection, treatment, education and reentry programming and youths’, staff and families’ experiences. PbS standards are clear: isolating or confining a youth to his/her room should be used only to protect the youth from harming himself or others and if used, should be brief and supervised. PbS’ issue brief, Reducing Isolation and Confinement, showed that corrections facilities involved with PbS more than cut in half the average time a youth spent in isolation and room confinement over the course of a few years.