1. Fourteenth Amendment Due Process of Law
Although some courts have recognized Eighth Amendment protection for juveniles in
isolation, a number of federal circuits today analyze isolation claims under the protections of the
Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 151 In Ingraham v. Wright, the Supreme Court
determined that the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment only
applies to individuals who have received a criminal conviction. 152 Importantly, the Supreme
Court has not specifically addressed what standard governs the use of isolation for juveniles
adjudicated delinquent. Many circuits that have reviewed the issue, however, have determined
that since juvenile offenders have not been “convicted” of a crime, the Fourteenth Amendment
requirement of due process of law, rather than the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel
and usual punishment, is the appropriate standard. 153
Three separate due process tests have been recognized in juvenile isolation cases. First,
if the use of isolation amounts to punishment or there is no rational basis for the deprivation, then
its use may be a violation of due process. Secondly, if the isolation is considered to be unduly
restrictive to a youth’s freedom of movement and is not reasonably related to the legitimate
security needs of the institution, it violates due process. Finally, some courts have recognized a
juvenile’s right to treatment created by the rehabilitative function of the juvenile court.
Jurisdictions that recognize this right, therefore, can find isolation to be a violation of due process
when it creates conditions that do not amount to treatment.
i. Courts have considered whether the use of isolation is punitive
In Bell v. Wolfish, the Supreme Court held that because due process does not allow
punishment of a person who has not been convicted of a crime, conditions to which pretrial
detainees are subjected cannot amount to punishment. 154 In order for a detention condition to be
considered punitive, the facility officials must have shown an expressed intent to punish, or there
must be no rational basis for the deprivation. 155 As long as the restriction is “reasonably related
to a legitimate government objective” and is not excessive in light of that objective, then the
restriction will not be considered punitive. 156
Several courts have applied the standard set forth in Bell and found that the use of
isolation was punitive in nature. In R.G. v. Koller, for example, a district court in Hawaii
considered whether the protective isolation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT)
juveniles violated the Fourteenth Amendment. 157 The court determined that, under Bell, the
isolation was punishment because it was excessive and could not “be viewed in any reasonable
light as advancing a legitimate nonpunitive governmental objective.”158
Similarly, in Morgan v. Sproat, the Southern District of Mississippi enjoined isolation
practices as a violation of due process rights where youth with disciplinary problems were placed
151 See Alexander S. v. Boyd, 876 F. Supp. 773, 795-96 (D.S.C. 1995).
152 See Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 671 (1977); Gary H. v. Hegstrom, 831 F.2d 1430, 1431-32 (9th Cir. 1987); Hewett v.
Jarrard, 786 F.2d 1080, 1084-85 (11th Cir. 1986); Santana v. Collazo, 714 F.2d 1172, 1179 (1st Cir. 1983); Milonas v. Williams, 691
F.2d 931, 942 n.10 (10th Cir. 1982) (all holding that due process rather than cruel and unusual punishment was the appropriate
standard to review the constitutionality of the use of juvenile isolation).
153 YOUTH LAW CTR., supra note 144, at 5; see also Alexander S., 876 F. Supp. at 795 (“[T]he court has determined that the Due
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which implicitly encompasses the protections of the Eighth Amendment, is the
appropriate standard for reviewing the conditions at the DJJ facilities. Adoption of the more stringent Due Process Clause is
appropriate in this case because the juveniles incarcerated at DJJ facilities have, with few exceptions, not been convicted of a crime;
rather, they have merely been adjudicated to be juvenile delinquents.”).