Lawsuit aims to end juvenile solitary confinement in Florida

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - A federal lawsuit alleges Florida’s use of solitary confinement in juvenile justice facilities is unconstitutional.

Roughly one out of three children sent into Florida’s juvenile justice system will spend time in solitary confinement, many on multiple occasions. (Alan Pogue/Texas Center for Documentary Photography)

Roughly one out of three children sent into Florida’s juvenile justice system will spend time in solitary confinement, many on multiple occasions.

“It's being used as a kind of punishment of first resort,” said Shalini Goel Agarwal, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The SPLC's new lawsuit alleges Florida’s use of solitary confinement for youth constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The suit was filed on behalf of three teenage detainees, two housed in Duval County and another in Volusia County. One was confined for not attending classes, despite being pregnant. Another, confined for rough-housing, attempted suicide twice while in solitary.

“Fifty percent of kids in juvenile detention who commit suicide are in solitary confinement at the time,” said Agarwal.

The suit also alleges juvenile confinement violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“A lot of times the placement in solitary is basically because the child is manifesting their disability, and as a result of that, DJJ is putting them into solitary confinement rather than providing them with mental health support,” said Agarwal.

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s policy is to confine juveniles for up to 72 hours if they are a harm to themselves or others.

Barney Bishop with Florida Smart Justice Alliance thinks the lawsuit goes too far because it seeks to abolish solitary confinement for juveniles entirely.

“It's ludicrous on its face because you're going to have to have solitary confinement for some children in some cases for some limited period of time,” said Bishop.

The DJJ declined to comment on this story, saying it does not comment on pending litigation.

The SPLC also recently filed a lawsuit challenging the use of solitary confinement in adult prisons.