likelihood that facilities function at high operational expectations that comply with or exceed
B. The Application of Professional Standards on the Use of Isolation in Juvenile Facilities
Should Include Robust Use of Evidence-Based Practices and Harm Analysis
Among the most progressive policy reforms in recent years is the focus on evidence-based practices that emphasize “effective treatments, services, and supports for youth and their
families.”283 Due to the increased availability of empirical data and the development of new,
systematic techniques to analyze that data, an expansive body of research and analysis regarding
the effectiveness of programming for youth offenders has recently become available.284 While
standards vary as to the purpose, timing, supervision, and restrictiveness for the use of isolation,
the fact that isolation is not an evidence-based approach to managing behavior is significant.285
The foundation of what constitutes “a substantial departure from accepted professional judgment,
practice, or standards,” and thus violates detained youth’s due process rights, should not be
measured solely by whether practices comport with juvenile justice standards, as previously
identified in this paper.286 Rather, professional judgment can and should be tied to evidence-based practices, which have been credibly assessed against a set of targeted outcomes.
Where isolation is used even on a limited basis, facilities must have detailed operating
procedures in place that clearly define the purpose and scope. Room confinement, rather than
isolation in physically and socially isolated areas, should be used only as a last resort, when all
other less restrictive techniques have failed, and the youth continues to pose a safety or security
risk.287 Disciplinary isolation should not be employed as punishment for rule violations. As soon
as the youth regains control and is no longer a threat, he or she should be released from
isolation.288 While standards vary as to the length of time permissible, some state regulations
require limits as low as three hours.289 Frequent visual checks should be required, as well as
documentation as to the youth’s wellbeing and condition generally.
When youth need to be separated for safety reasons, this should be limited to keeping
youth in their rooms instead of placing them in a separate isolation unit. Allowing juveniles to
remain in their own rooms will shield them from some of the harmful effects of isolation caused
283 LIPSE Y ET AL., supra note 22, at 9.
284 Id. at 12.
285 Finke, supra note 40, at 186, 187, 189.
286 Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 321 (1982).
287 See, e.g., Commonwealth of Mass. Dep’t of Youth Servs., Official Policy: Involuntary Room Confinement, Policy No. 03.03.01(a)
1 (2013) (“Room confinement may only be used when less restrictive interventions have failed and for the least amount of time
required for the youth to regain self-control.”); 55 PA. CODE § 3800.202(b) (2000) (“[A] restrictive procedure [seclusion] may be used
only to prevent a child from injuring himself or others.”); MULTNOMAH CNTY. DEP’T OF CMTY. JUSTICE, POLICY AND PROCEDURES:
JUVENILE SERVICES-DETENTION, SECLUSION 1 (2007) (“[T]he designated Seclusion Room on each unit is only utilized under extreme
situations in which: 1) a youth has physically attacked another person and is resisting staff interventions, 2) a youth is destroying
county materials and property, 3) a youth is disregarding the sleeping house of his/her peers by banging or yelling in his/her assigned
room, or 4) a youth has attempted to escape the facility and is resisting staff interventions. Any youth escorted to Seclusion will
remain in this capacity for only as long as disruptive, destructive or violent behavior exists.”).
288 See Masters et al., supra note 257, at 6S.
289 See e.g., 55 PA. CODE § 3800.274(17)( ii), (vi) (requiring approval from a licensed physician, physician’s assistant, or registered
nurse before isolating for more than four hours, and a court order for more than eight hours in any forty-eight-hour period);
Commonwealth of Mass. Dep’t of Youth Servs., supra note 287, at 5-6 (requiring authorization from Program Director, Assistant
Program Director, or Clinical Director for any use of isolation up to three hours; authorization from the Regional Director of
Operations for four to nine hours; and authorization from the Regional Director for ten to twelve hours); MULTNOMAH CNTY. DEP’T
OF CMTY. JUSTICE, supra note 287, at 2 (requiring the continued need for seclusion be assessed every thirty minutes, rarely to exceed
one hour); see also Masters et al., supra note 257, at 6S (limiting seclusion time to two hours for youth up to age seventeen, and four
hours for individuals age eighteen or older without re-evaluation).