The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) places hundreds of children in solitary confinement on any given day. The SPLC, Florida Legal Services and the Florida Justice Institute filed a federal class action lawsuit to end the use of solitary confinement in the state’s juvenile detention facilities.
The lawsuit cites scientific, medical and mental health evidence likening solitary confinement to torture and demonstrating its dangers to the development and rehabilitation of children. The lawsuit challenges the department’s policy in 21 state-operated secure detention facilities of isolating children in solitary confinement for minor misbehavior.
The lawsuit also describes the department’s failure to provide children with access to school services, recreation or appropriate mental health services – heightening the risk of psychological damage from confinement. Children spend hours or days alone, behind solid, bolted steel doors in tiny cells, with nothing to do but stare at the walls, and without any therapeutic interventions.
Between July 1, 2017, and June 1, 2018, DJJ isolated 4,310 children in solitary confinement a total of 11,738 times, meaning that many children were put in isolation repeatedly. In total, DJJ locked up 14,010 children in FY 2017-18. This means that approximately 30% of children were isolated in solitary confinement at some point while locked up.
The suit argues that this practice violates the U.S. Constitution because DJJ officials know about the damaging effects of solitary confinement on children but have failed to mitigate them. The suit also alleged that DJJ’s practices surrounding solitary confinement discriminate against children with disabilities, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
The lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, 13-year-old G.H., remained in solitary confinement at the Volusia Regional Juvenile Detention Center even after he attempted suicide in his confinement cell, and despite staff’s awareness of the suicide risk. He was put in solitary for, among other things, play-fighting with another child in the facility.
Black youth are disproportionately targeted for arrest and solitary confinement, according to research available at the time of the filing. They constitute 22% of Florida’s public school enrollment, but 51% of juvenile arrests, over 60% of children in Department of Juvenile Justice secure detention and 70% of children in solitary confinement statewide.
Despite being certified as a class action in 2021, the lawsuit was later decertified and both parties agreed to a voluntary dismissal. The case is closed as of Sept. 8, 2022.