There’s a “no trespassing” sign outside the old Jetson Center for Youth in Baker, La. Jetson has most recently been used to house adult women prisoners since 2014. The Office of Juvenile Justice wants to reopen it as a diagnostic center for incarcerated minors and young adults. (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue/Louisiana Illuminator)
The Louisiana House of Representatives voted 86-7 Thursday to place legal limits on the use of solitary confinement in state centers for incarcerated youth. It follows an explosive investigation revealing that underage people in state custody were held in isolation without access to education or rehabilitative services for weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Bill 746, by Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, would cap the use of solitary confinement at state juvenile centers to a maximum of 24 hours.
It would require the facilities to have a mental health professional evaluate a young person after eight hours of confinement, and then again at 16 hours, to make sure isolation was still appropriate.
Currently, there is no limit on the use of solitary confinement on teens and young adults kept in state facilities. Duplessis had initially proposed a much stricter standard – a four-hour limit – but agreed to a higher cap after facing pushback from legislators.
In 2019 and 2020, solitary confinement was used at least 751 times on 271 incarcerated youth at state centers. The average stay in insolation was five to six days, higher than the national average, according to the legislative auditor.
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The state’s Office of Juvenile Justice has an internal policy restricting solitary confinement for youth to a maximum of seven days, though it breaks that rule often. The state’s legislative auditor found that solitary confinement in state youth centers exceeded the seven-day limit in a third of cases.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Juvenile Justice also had a much stricter solitary policy, capping it at just eight hours. Officials said it was necessary to increase that time limit as the young residents became more violent.
If approved, the new confinement standards would apply to state youth facilities but not to juvenile detention centers overseen by local governments. GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Republicans have questioned why Duplessis’ legislation is necessary when Gov. John Bel Edwards could just implement restrictions on juvenile solitary confinement himself.
“Why do I have to legislate good or bad management?” asked Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond, during a hearing on Duplessis’ bill last week.
“I can’t force the governor or governor’s staff to do something,” Duplessis responded.
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The Senate will now take up the proposal.
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