- Associated Press - Friday, March 21, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio is challenging federal officials’ legal efforts to get a court to limit solitary confinement used to discipline boys with mental health disorders throughout the state’s juvenile prison system.

The Justice Department calls the practice rampant and sought an order to limit seclusion at four facilities, a request that adds to a 2008 lawsuit raising concerns about seclusion and inadequate mental health services in the system.

State responses filed Friday said a proposal aimed at reducing seclusion is under discussion and the Justice Department’s latest arguments should be rejected.

Given the responsibility to provide a safe environment encouraging rehabilitation, the state is “in the best position to determine how seclusion is applied, the amount of time a youth should spend in seclusion based on all aspects of the youth’s experience at (the Department of Youth Services), and the best ways to reduce seclusion if necessary,” the attorney general’s office wrote.

The state accused federal officials of improperly trying to alter an earlier agreement in the case without filing a new complaint and to reach beyond the one facility that the Justice Department still oversees under the agreement. That youth prison, the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility, is scheduled to close soon.

The Justice Department alleges Ohio violates the boys’ due process rights by depriving them of education, exercise and mental health care and doesn’t alter their treatment when they return to the general population to address ramifications of solitary confinement or the problems that led to seclusion.

“If these boys are to be protected from the irreparable harm of excessive and repeated seclusion, it is up to this court to protect them,” the department said in its request.

Youth Services has said it secludes juveniles as a last resort and still offers treatment and programming in those cases.

Federal authorities asked the court to limit solitary confinement for mentally ill boys to no more than 24 hours without exercise, education or other programming; no more than three consecutive days; and no more than three days within a 30-day period unless officials review a youth’s mental health treatment plan and take other steps. They also say use of restraints shouldn’t be substituted for seclusion.

The Columbus Dispatch reported earlier Friday that new statistics show Ohio juvenile prisons increased its use of solitary confinement last year, averaging about 453 hours for each youth, whether they were actually placed in seclusion or not.

Much has changed in Ohio’s juvenile prisons in the decade since a different lawsuit depicted the system as having a culture of violence in the system. It has closed several juvenile prisons in recent years as more young offenders go to locally run facilities, meaning those still in state facilities are often older and more violent.

The four juvenile prisons house about 440 youth.



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