BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Juvenile detention centers are under the microscope for their use of solitary confinement practices. A nearly 100-page audit highlights several areas in need of improvement.
The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has authority over the 13 juvenile detention facilities while youth are awaiting court proceedings and the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) oversees youth that has been adjudicated by a court. The report is broken down into two sections, focusing on one department at a time.
In juvenile detention centers run by DCFS, confinement rooms have a 72-hour limit, but a scathing audit said that standard was violated. State Representative Royce Duplessis, who called for the audit, said this practice is damaging.
“Incredible harm that affects a young person regardless of their offense if they are being held in solitary confinement for too long if they are not being checked on,” Duplessis said.
At least 1,318 youth were assigned to 6,188 instances of room confinement, many due to fighting or aggression. But Kristina Baker-Hernandez said the teens would often be separated for lesser offenses.
“We also found that there were incidences of detention centers placing youth in confinement for lesser negative behaviors such as failure to follow instructions,” Baker-Hernandez said.
Baker-Hernandez said one of the most challenging obstacles of the audit was the lack of data. Some facilities had handwritten notes in each juvenile’s file, and documents left out key information including why the youth was locked away and for how long. She said for one facility, they were unable to receive any information after the juveniles destroyed the paper documents.
Unlike detention centers run by DCFS, there are no laws that govern the use of room confinement in Secure Care Facilities overseen by OJJ, only a policy that was recently enacted that limits confinement to seven days.
“We found approximately 33 percent of the room confinement, incidences of room confinement after that policy change, were greater than 168 hours,” Baker-Hernandez said.
In one incident, the juvenile was put in isolation for 90 days.
“I learned about incidences of suicide by young people that had been committed while being in solitary confinement,” said Duplessis.
The audit said the overall length of confinement for youth in secure care facilities is higher than the national average.
DCFS agreed to all five of the recommendations from the auditor’s office, including collecting electronic data on the use of confinement and using room confinement as a last resort. The OJJ agreed with two of the three recommendations, saying they will limit the use of room confinement and provide more detailed information but said sharing that information online would be too difficult.