SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The U.S. Justice Department has submitted a “statement of interest” in a lawsuit seeking to end the solitary confinement of juveniles in a New York jail.
The lawsuit, filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York, challenges the ongoing practice at the Onondaga County Justice Center in Syracuse of holding 16- and 17-year-olds in isolation.
NYCLU staff attorney Phil Desgranges said the statement of interest cites numerous court rulings that have found the solitary confinement of juveniles for short periods of time to be unconstitutional.
“The federal government also looked at the bevy of Supreme Court cases that have found juveniles to be constitutionally different than adults, and also noted that juveniles are much more susceptible to psychological damage as a result of being in solitary than adults,” Desgranges said.
In December, the NYCLU requested that the court issue an expedited order which, if granted, would require the jail to remove children from solitary confinement.
According to Desgranges, the juveniles are often placed in solitary cells next to adults who threaten them with assault, sexual harassment or other abuse. He said the vast majority are being held simply because they could not afford to pay bail.
“Despite the fact that they’re not convicted of a crime, these kids are punished on what we believe to be an unconstitutional basis, placed in solitary and deprived of any meaningful human interaction,” he said.
The children in solitary at the jail are also not receiving legally-mandated educational services.
The federal government is not a party to the lawsuit, and Desgranges said that is an indication of the significance the outcome of this case may have.
“The fact that the federal government has weighed in here, we think, shows the importance not only for this jurisdiction but for other jurisdictions around the country that they need to end these practices for juveniles,” Desgranges said.
Both the federal government and New York state have ended the practice of holding juveniles in solitary confinement.
More information is online at nyclu.org.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service – NY