The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Youth Services on March 12, seeking an injunction to prevent the state from placing youth with mental illnesses in solitary confinement in it’s juvenile correctional facilities.
In the second half of 2013, the state secluded 229 youth with mental illnesses for almost 60,000 hours in solitary confinement.
In one case, a youth was left in solitary confinement for 21 straight days. Another youth was forced into 1,964 hours in seclusion over a six-month period.
“The facts in this case reveal a serious disregard for the rights of young people with mental health needs in Ohio’s custody,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the the Northern District of Ohio, in a news release. “The Ohio Department of Youth Services has a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of these young people, including providing appropriate mental health treatment, so that they can overcome challenging behaviors and return to the community to become successful adults.”
The lawsuit asserts that the state is violating the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the 14th Amendment’s due process protections.
The DOJ and advocacy groups have long criticized the state’s treatment of juvenile offenders.
The ACLU of Ohio and Human Rights Watch released the findings of an extensive investigation in 2012, detailing numerous examples of youth with mental illness being held in confinement for extended periods.
In 2007, the DOJ issued findings of physical force, grievance investigation and processing and use of seclusion in the state’s system.
The next year, the DOJ entered into a consent decree with the state to fix practices at the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility.
“It is unfortunate that it has come to this. … Most kids who come to the attention of the justice system have been traumatized, and many — if not most — have some form of mental-health disorder,” Terry Russell, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio, told the Columbus Dispatch. “Seclusion and restraint only serves to traumatize them further and exacerbate their illness.”