Juvenile Law Center

Ending Solitary Confinement|Juvenile and Criminal Justice

End Solitary Confinement and Other Conditions That Hurt Kids

Despite a growing consensus that solitary confinement harms youth and undermines the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system, the practice remains all too common. At the same time, the field lacks sufficient information on the prevalence of the practice, the alternatives, and the perspectives of affected youth and families. This report uses surveys of public defenders, conversations with youth and families, interviews with correctional administrators, and legal and psychological research to fill these gaps and set forth recommendations for reform.

Download the report >>

Download the executive summary >>


Nationwide, kids are facing appalling prison conditions: solitary confinement, strip searches, shackling, pepper spray, physical and sexual abuse. No child deserves to be locked alone in a small, empty room for days, weeks or months. Imagine knowing your child is being strip searched after every family visit, pepper sprayed in the face, and routinely shackled during "recreation time." If parents treated their own kids this way, it would be called child abuse. That’s because it is - and it hurts kids.

Juvenile Law Center is one of the leading national organizations working to abolish solitary confinement and other harmful conditions in youth prisons. We advocate for reforms that address extreme conditions more broadly – such as use of pepper spray or risk of sexual violence. We are also at the forefront of a targeted movement to ban strip searches of youth. Juvenile Law Center's work focuses on:

  • eliminating solitary, strip searches, and excessive force used against kids;
  • keeping kids safe from harm from facility staff, other youth, and themselves;
  • ensuring kids have developmentally appropriate care and activities;
  • fair treatment, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability status; and
  • minimizing the amount of time kids spend in youth prisons.

We do this important work through federal and state legislative advocacy, litigation, publications, and education. In 2016, we filed a class action lawsuit with the ACLU of Wisconsin and Quarles & Brady, LLP challenging widespread use of solitary confinement, pepper spray and the practice of chaining youth to tables in two youth facilities, Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls. Learn more about this case >>


In youth prisons across the U.S., children are held in small, empty, concrete solitary cells for 22- to 24-hours per day, somtimes for weeks or months.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child established solitary confinement as a human rights violation, and the United States is one of the only countries remaining who has not signed on to this international agreement.

Harsh conditions in youth prisons interfere with normal child development and can leave kids with PTSD and serious life-long health conditions. For example, solitary confinement can cause permanent psychological damage and has been shown to lead to self-harm, psychosis, and suicide – even in otherwise healthy adults. Strip searches are traumatic, degrading, and humiliating. Kids – especially survivors of sexual abuse – can be re-traumatized by strip searches and often feel violated or sexually abused by these searches. Youth in facilities must be protected from sexual violence and deserve counseling and appropriate support if they are victims of sexual assault.

Girls and gender-non-conforming youth are more likely than boys to enter the justice system with histories of sexual abuse and other trauma; solitary and other harsh treatment is re-traumatizing. Studies suggest that youth of color, LGBTQ youth, gender-non-conforming youth, and youth with disabilities are more likely to be put in solitary– sometimes justified as “for their own protection,” or because the facility lacks appropriate services or accommodations.



Right now, there is a national movement to end solitary for kids, and we are proud to be a part of this coalition. More and more states are changing their policies to cut back on solitary, and some facilities have banned the practice entirely. Facilities that have limited it have seen a subsequent reduction in youth violence.

The justice system is obligated to protect incarcerated youth. There is no evidence demonstrating that solitary confinement reduces violence in youth facilities. We know kids do better when they stay with their families and communities.

Juvenile Law Center is proud lead the fight to eliminate harsh conditions for kids across the country. One example of this is in Missouri, where the state now uses trauma-informed practices instead of strip searching kids. The time to eliminate these practices from youth prisons is now.

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