Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is facing a lawsuit filed by the Human Rights Defense Center claiming that three juvenile suspects awaiting trial for undisclosed felony charges were unfairly held in solitary confinement without reason and have been denied a proper education. The suspects are listed in the lawsuit only by their initials and all are between the ages of 16 and 17. All three suffered mentally and physically from the effects of limited interaction with others over a prolonged period of time, according to the filing.
The Center has alleged the suspects were locked in solitary confinement for up to seven months. They were only allowed out of their cell for an hour three days per week to exercise by themselves on an enclosed basketball court. Two were put in solitary because authorities didn’t want them conversing with the co-defendants in their cases rather than for the fact that they had been problematic or violated any rules. One has been housed there since December 2017, and the other was in for six months before being allowed to return to the others. The third was placed there for a total of twenty days after involvement in a fight.
The lawsuit claimed the three juveniles were not allowed out of their solitary cells to attend class with the others. Instead, they had to listen to educators through steel doors and watch lessons through plexiglass, which mentally affected them and keep them from keeping pace with their peers. According to state law, children in detention centers must receive the same education as those who are not detained.
Ted Leopold, the teens’ attorney, said Bradshaw is “committing a horrible breach” of his clients’ constitutional rights, including the ban on cruel and unusual punishment, by keeping them locked up the same way as “hard-core convicts who have been put away for life.”
“They have not been convicted of anything yet,” Leopold argued. “However, it is important to note that the school district has no control over the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office policies and practices regarding juveniles, including those held at the county jail or juvenile assessment center.”
There have been several studies indicating that the use of solitary confinement is a mentally and emotionally harmful disciplinary tactic to use for both children and adults. The filing also states that the plaintiffs should have received regular check-ins to see how they were doing while in isolation. Yet, they did not. Further, if teens acted out or protested against the conditions of their stay, they were immediately sent to the psych ward, where they were allegedly stripped completely naked and put in a paper gown in a freezing cold cell for hours to days at a time. Their treatment, according to court documents, was equivalent to torture and violated their constitutional rights.
The school district is reviewing the sheriff’s decision to keep the teens from other students while in confinement. However, they’ve stated they don’t have authority over the decisions made at the detention center. Rather than financial damages, Leopold and the Human Rights Defense Center are seeking a judge’s order that eliminates the practice of placing minors in isolation.