COLUMBUS, Ohio — The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has settled a lawsuit against the State of Ohio to end what it deemed unlawful seclusion of youth in juvenile correctional facilities. According to a release issued by the DOJ, the United States and private plaintiffs have reached an agreement with the state under which the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) will dramatically reduce, and eventually eliminate, its use of seclusion on young people.
Under the agreement DYS will also ensure that juvenile offenders receive individualized mental health treatment to address the conditions and behaviors that led to seclusion. This order resolves allegations that the state subjects young people with mental health needs in its custody to harmful seclusion, and withholds treatment and programming, in violation of their constitutional rights.
“Overreliance on solitary confinement for young people, particularly those with disabilities, is unsafe and counterproductive,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a release. “This agreement will help ensure that incarceration in Ohio's state facilities is humane and that appropriate treatment is provided for young people with mental illness. The Justice Department will continue to evaluate the use of solitary confinement so that it does not become a new normal for incarcerated juveniles.”
The DOJ first began investigating conditions at Ohio juvenile correctional facilities in 2007 and found constitutional deficiencies in the state’s use of physical force, mental health care, grievance investigation and processing and use of seclusion. Ohio entered into a consent decree with both the DOJ and private plaintiffs in the case S.H. v. Reed the following year to remedy these violations. According to the DOJ, however, recent data from the monitoring of both consent decrees revealed that Ohio had continued to employ unlawful seclusion on youth in facilities across the state.
As an interim measure prior to the elimination of disciplinary seclusion for youth, Ohio will dramatically reduce both the duration of seclusion and the conditions under which the practice is allowed. According to the DOJ, the state will also reduce the potential harms caused by seclusion by increasing access to therapeutic, educational and recreational services while a young person is in seclusion.
Furthermore, the order requires Ohio to implement quality assurance measures to verify mental health treatment integrity, develop comprehensive assessments, largely eliminate the use of disciplinary seclusion on youth with mental health needs, conduct regular checks on youth who are secluded for safety concerns and perform individualized treatment plan reviews and modifications to address violent behaviors. The order also includes performance standards to measure compliance with these requirements, which will be jointly overseen by the monitors in the existing consent decrees.
“This agreement will provide significant relief to youth in DYS custody by ensuring they receive appropriate mental health treatment and are not subject to excessive seclusion,” said U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart for the Southern District of Ohio in a release. “Today, the state has taken an important step in rectifying the unconstitutional conditions in its juvenile correctional facilities.”
“The state of Ohio, the administrators of the Department of Youth Services and their counsel are to be commended for their commitment to reforming Ohio’s juvenile correctional facilities,” added Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “Ohio’s commitments in this agreement will go a long way toward reducing the harm young people are experiencing in the state’s juvenile correctional facilities, especially young people with mental health needs.”