Juvenile Law Center

Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Ending Solitary Confinement and Other Harmful Practices

Press conference with Juvenile Law Center and ACLU of Wisconsin to announce class action lawsuit against two juvenile state facilities for youth solitary confinement and use of pepper spray.

At Juvenile Law Center, we have worked for years to abolish solitary confinement for youth through federal and state legislative advocacy, litigation, publications, and education. Most recently, 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 and Copper Lake.

Solitary confinement is a human rights violation. Every day in juvenile correctional facilities across the United States, children are held in small, bare, concrete cells – alone - for 22 to 24 hours per day, often for weeks or months at a time.1 

Conditions in these cells are abysmal. Youth are deprived of education, counseling, and other critical mental health treatment – even if they are suicidal.2 Many youth are deprived of personal and other possessions, including school books, and even clothing, mattresses and bedding. Experts, including the U.S. Department of Justice3, agree that solitary confinement makes facilities less safe and causes lasting harm for youth.

This is inexcusable.

While there is still much work to be done, we have seen significant progress in recent years:

  • In February 2017, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the MERCY Act, a federal bill banning youth solitary confinement.
  • In January 2016, President Barack Obama issued an executive order barring solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prison.
  • In 2013, in the case of T.D. v. Mickens, Juvenile Law Center and our partners settled a case on behalf of two youth held in excessive solitary confinement in a facility under the supervision of New Jersey’s Juvenile Justice Commission. We settled the case following a win in the federal district court.

While our focus has been on solitary confinement, we are also working to end other harmful practices for youth in the justice system. We have worked to support strong protections for youth under the Prison Rape Elimination Act. We have also worked to eliminate strip searches for youth, both through litigation and legislation.

In addition, we continue to play a large role in public education on these issues, and are often called to testify before lawmakers and provide training and support to attorneys across the country. This technical assistance aspect of our work allows us to build the capacity of the field to address these problems nationwide.

Your support helps make this work possible. Please consider donating to us today and sign up for our email newsletter to stay connected.


We are proud to work in coalition with a number of groups on this issue, including Stop Solitary for Kids.Stop Solitary for Kids is a national campaign to end solitary confinement of youth in juvenile and adult facilities in the United States. The campaign is a joint effort by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, and the Justice Policy Institute. Learn more about the campaign here: http://www.stopsolitaryforkids.org/.

Click here to download our #StopSolitaryforKids factsheet.


1 Human Rights Watch & The American Civil Liberties Union, Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States (2012), available at http://www.aclu.org/growinguplockeddown. This is also the definition used by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Interim Rep. of the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ¶ 26, U.N. Doc. A/66/268 (Aug. 5, 2011) (by Juan Mendez), http://solitaryconfinement.org/uploads/SpecRapTortureAug2011.pdf. Although isolation practices in many facilities do not rise to the level of solitary confinement, because the conditions and effects of various segregation practices are substantially the same, the ACLU uses a single term – solitary confinement – based on the level of social isolation and environmental deprivation to describe the most extreme forms of physical and social isolation.
2Troy D. v. Mickens, Case 1:10-cv-02902-JEI –AMD (2011).
3 Letter from Robert L. Listenbee, Administrator, US Department of Justice, to Jesselyn McCurdy, Senior Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union 1 (Jul. 5, 2013), https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/doj_ojjdp_response_on_jj_solitary.pdf.


Last updated: 2/23/2017

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