The A.C.L.U. claims that young detainees–including many who have yet to be adjudicated guilty of any crimes–are forced to spend up to 23 hours per day in solitary confinement, despite state law and departmental guidance suggesting that isolation never been used to punish children.
The American Civil Liberties Union has fled a lawsuit alleging that children as young as 11 are being placed in solitary confinement in the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center in Benton, Illinois.
According to The Associated Press, young inmates at the Benton-area facility must comply with draconian rules. They are, for example, required to ask staff for permission before flushing the toilet.
Under certain circumstances, juvenile detainees go days—sometimes even weeks—without having access to assigned schoolwork or other educational attainment opportunities.
Block mold has been found inside the detention center, and children are not provided regular access to mental health professionals.
The American Civil Liberties Union has since asked the court to order the detention center to improve conditions without delay.
“These are not conditions that anybody, let alone a child, should be subjected to,” said A.C.L.U. attorney Kevin Fee, who also called the situation in Franklin County as “inhumane to the level of being unspeakable.”
Apryl Alexander, a clinical and forensic psychologist who works with detained children, told The Associated Press that the allegations against the Benton facility are alarming—especially considering how, over the course of the past several decades, juvenile detention centers across the country have made a noticeable effort to improve their conditions.
“We’re supposed to be using the juvenile legal system for rehabilitation and not punishment,” Alexander told The Associated Press. “These are youth who are capable of change—we recognize that developmentally and personally.”
“And so we should be treating them as such,” she said.
Fee, the attorney representing the plaintiff detainees, said that many of the children in Franklin County Juvenile Detention are awaiting trial.
As such, many of the young inmates have neither received court-ordered sentences nor been adjudicated guilty of any crime.
However, the A.C.L.U. alleges that juvenile detainees in Franklin County regularly spend up to 23 hours per day in solitary confinement, with most cells the size of “parking spaces.”
“The idea that children would spend any portion of their childhood locked in solitary confinement is an egregious abuse,” Fee said.
Solitary confinement, the attorney added, is “extremely harmful for everybody who is locked up, but particularly for children spending that much time in a brightly lit room, unable to really sleep properly.”
Illinois state law and agency-specific guidance make it illegal for children held by the state Department of Juvenile Justice to place children in solitary confinement.
However, some relevant legislation will only take effect at the beginning of next year.