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Editorial: Report sounds appropriate warning against solitary confinement for juveniles

Editorial: Report sounds appropriate warning against solitary confinement for juveniles

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Nebraska officials need to heed the warning in a new report and work to lessen the state’s use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders. Such facilities placed 631 youngsters in room confinement during the year that ended June 30.

Such confinement risks great harm to young offenders and should be used sparingly, mental health professionals caution. States around the country are heeding the warning and reducing their use of the practice.

The Nebraska Legislature, responding to such findings, changed state law in 2016 to require that juvenile detention centers around the state adopt policies to reduce the times they resort to restrictive housing.

The legislation, by State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, also required that the centers report the circumstances whenever they use such a practice.

Julie Rogers, the inspector general of Nebraska child welfare, annually compiles a report on the state’s use of solitary confinement for juveniles.

Nebraska has made little progress in reducing its resort to the practice, she writes in a just-released report.

The state used such confinement 2,683 times for the juvenile offenders over the past year. That’s an increase from the 2,371 times in the year ending June 30, 2017.

The youth offenders range in age from 12 to 18. The shortest confinement listed in the new report lasted 15 minutes. The longest, at the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility in Omaha, lasted almost 114 days.

“There is no behavioral, medical, educational or legal research that indicates juvenile room confinement … is beneficial or therapeutic,” Rogers wrote. “Seclusion and restraint are considered high-risk.”

The practice, she warned, risks increasing a youth’s chances of suicidal thoughts, self-harm and worsening mental illness.

Rogers had underscored that concern in earlier findings about the state facility in Geneva for female juvenile offenders.

The Geneva center, she wrote, was receiving a large number of youths with “extremely serious histories of trauma and mental illness.”

Without question, staff members can face major difficulties in managing juvenile offenders who display violent or disruptive behavior.

And the best long-term solution is an overall societal one, relating to dimensions such as parenting, mentoring, economic support and school experiences.

The bottom line, though, is that solitary confinement is an extreme response that raises serious concern.

State officials should heed Rogers’ warning and make needed changes, for the best interests of the juveniles and society.

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