Written by Mike Dempsey, CJCA Executive Director

A New Resource from Stop Solitary for Kids (SSK) Campaign How to Reduce Room Confinement While Increasing Safety in Facilities has been released

Now more than ever, room confinement is a critical issue for facility superintendents, agency administrators, and staff. In the past few years, room confinement has gained ample nationwide coverage due to the convergence of mainstream media attention, litigation, policy developments, and investigative reporting from youth advocates. As awareness about room confinement in juvenile facilities grows, so will public scrutiny and legal difficulties for those continuing to use the practice unchecked.

While reforms in several states and the growing national awareness about the issue have spurred administrators and staff to re-examine traditional beliefs about room confinement, there is no quick or easy recipe for changing the practice. Many administrators and staff recognize that putting young people in room confinement isn’t an effective solution, but they need more information about what to do instead.

See the recent Corrections Today article Using Space Well written by Mike Dempsey and Jenny Lutz on this topic.

The Stop Solitary for Kids Campaign’s new publication Not In Isolation: How to Reduce Room Confinement While Increasing Safety in Youth Facilities which has just been released will provide practical assistance and specific examples of alternatives to the use of isolation. The report shares work from three CJCA member jurisdictions and one county juvenile detention center who implemented strategies to reduce their own use of room confinement.”

Learn more by viewing these resources:

  1. Not in Isolation [full report | executive summary]
  2. Not in Isolation home page with additional resources https://bit.ly/2GDxv7Y
  3. Fact Sheet: https://bit.ly/2ITNyQd

Not In Isolation tells the stories of how these jurisdictions successfully reduced room confinement. The report relies on extensive interviews with administrators and staff to provide concrete examples and links to sample documents. Jurisdictions included in the report are:

  • The Colorado Division of Youth Services;
  • The Massachusetts Department of Youth Services;
  • The Oregon Youth Authority; and
  • The Shelby County Juvenile Detention Center in Memphis, Tennessee.

Each jurisdiction in Not In Isolation tells a compelling story about why and how they reduced room confinement. Some agencies were responding to specific events, whether a series of suicides, federal litigation, investigation and reporting by outside entities, or the passage of new state legislation. Some administrators recognized the harmful effects of room confinement and made the internal decision to move away from the practice. Often it was a combination of these and other factors.

Regardless of the motivation for change, administrators in these jurisdictions discovered that strategies to end room confinement were connected to many other aspects of facility operations. They could not safely reduce room by changing any one facility policy “in isolation” from other aspects of the institution. Not In Isolation describes specific changes each facility made including programming activities and scheduling; integrating mental health staff on housing units; utilizing data collection and analysis; and implementing behavior management programing.

 Practical resources shared from the report will include:

  • Quotes and perspectives from facility and agency staff;
  • Direct links to policies, forms, reports, training material, and other useful materials;
  • Information on how jurisdictions addressed challenges in areas of leadership, staff culture, behavior management, mental health, staff training, and data; and
  • Details about what steps each site took, what worked, and what didn’t.

Achieving sustainable reductions in room confinement is time-consuming and staff-intensive. Changes do not happen overnight. Even when jurisdictions make progress, continued success will depend on constant attention to detail and regular review of behavior of both youth and staff. While none of the jurisdictions featured in Not In Isolation is a perfect model, they all achieved measurable reductions in the frequency and duration of room confinement through commitment, patience, and regular review. Although letting go of long-held beliefs about the use of room confinement was difficult for some, staff at every facility ultimately said that reducing room confinement was the right decision. It helped reduce violence, improve relationships between youth and staff, and make facilities safer, more rewarding places to work.

Stop Solitary for Kids is a national campaign to end solitary confinement for young people led by four national juvenile justice organizations: the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University, and the Justice Policy Institute.

Not in Isolation is now available. For more information visit www.StopSolitaryForKids.org/not-in-isolation

Not in Isolation is out and being distributed widely to the field, including a great op-ed in JJIE by Shay Bilchik, Mike Dempsey and Michael Umpierre, that you can see here