By Mary Kuhlman
There's a national trend of moving away from the use of isolation as punishment in youth correctional facilities, but a new report says it is still used in Indiana.
The survey by the national law firm Lowenstein Sandler found 21 states now prohibit punitive isolation and 20 others, including Indiana, have restrictions in place. But Natalie Kraner, pro bono counsel with the firm, contends even when used for a short period of time, isolation can cause serious mental and developmental harm.
"The truth is, there's been a culture in youth institutions of solitary confinement being used as a means of disciplining kids," says Kraner. "When they act out, when they violate the rules, it's one of the tools that corrections officers can use, and we know that it's damaging."
She adds isolation is linked to increased anxiety, depression, and risk of suicide and self-harm. In Indiana, a hearing is required before segregation lasting more than 24 hours, and punitive segregation is permitted up to five days in certain circumstances. Youth in confinement must have recreation time, and be allowed mail, reading materials and visitation.
According to the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, Indiana has reduced the use of isolation in its juvenile population by increasing family involvement and training staff in trauma-informed care and conflict resolution.
Deputy Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Corrections James Basinger says the goal is to defuse problems, not segregate the youth.
"We want to talk it out, try to resolve the problem, see what the issues are," says Basinger. "We want to emphasize on communication and talking to the juvenile just to de-conflict the issues."
While many states are moving away from using segregation as punishment, Kraner notes it is often still used for non-punitive reasons, including the safety of others. She says the concern is that it's used as a guise.
"It's engrained in the culture of many of these places to use solitary confinement," Kraner says. "And if you have the ability to use it for non-punitive purposes, it could certainly become a proxy for corrections officers to continue to use it truly as a means of punishment, even when it's not allowed under the regulations."
The report recommends states prohibit punitive solitary confinement, only allow non-punitive as a last resort and under clearly defined circumstances, and establish methods to collect and report data about its use.