on controlling disruptive behavior and deterring future violence and disruption.295 The use of
isolation and restraint in a psychiatric context is based upon the need for protection of the juvenile
and others; conversely, disciplinary units rely on this as a sanction for rule breaking, so the
duration may be longer or predetermined as a “sentence.”296
If an intensive management unit is used for youth with significant mental health needs, it
should be viewed as similar to an acute care residential psychiatric unit. Research suggests that
four interrelated functions should be built into the program: 1) that the unit provide a safe and
secure setting for those youth who cannot be safely maintained within the general population; 2)
that the unit would provide treatment designed to stabilize the presenting behavioral problems of
the youth and return them to baseline functioning; 3) youth should return to general population as
quickly as possible; and 4) guidance should be provided to staff in general population units to
where these youth are returned.297 Special management units should not become the dumping
grounds for youth who are severely mentally ill, and for whom appropriate mental health care is
not being provided. Facilities should acknowledge through quality assurance measures how such
units are being utilized, and either restrict admissions for youth with serious mental health issues,
or ensure that the unit has a strong behavioral health component and highly skilled behavioral
health staff to focus on stabilization and return to general population.
D. Broader Approaches to Avoiding Isolation Should Be Explored
In addition to improving and clarifying the standards, policies, and procedures for when
isolation can be used, facility administrators should also explore alternatives that prevent the use
of isolation altogether. The juvenile justice system can decrease dependence on isolation by
increasing the availability of alternatives to secure confinement. Overuse of secure detention
creates crowded facilities, and research indicates that isolation rates are higher at crowded
facilities due to inadequate staffing.298 Because staff in crowded facilities may not have the time
to anticipate and prevent explosive behavior in advance, their reliance upon the use of isolation to
control behavior is more likely.299 Youth in overcrowded facilities are also more likely to request
placement in isolation because they feel unsafe or are unable to cope with the minimal privacy in
the general population.300
Finally, in order for these changes to be successful, facilities should seek to hire and train
staff, and especially supervisors, who are committed to the purpose of rehabilitating youth.
Unfortunately, many institutional practices reflect a devaluation of the juveniles who are placed
in facilities, which can create “a significant barrier to treating youth with respect and meeting
their individual needs.”301 However, negative attitudes on the part of staff result from the failure
to understand better alternatives, and can be improved through training.302 By educating staff
about appropriate ways to manage behavior and emphasizing the individual value of each child,
juvenile facilities can help ensure that staff follows policies and remain committed to the
rehabilitation of each youth.
295 Id. at 45.
297 Id. at 46.
298 DALE G. PARENT ET AL., OFFICE OF JUVENILE JUSTICE & DELINQUENCY PREVENTION, CONDITIONS OF CONFINEMENT: JUVENILE
DETENTION AND CORRECTIONS FACILITIES RESEARCH REPORT 8 (1994); see also SUE BURRELL, ANNIE E. CASEY FOUND., 6
PATHWAYS TO JUVENILE DETENTION REFORM: IMPROVING CONDITIONS OF CONFINEMENT IN SECURE JUVENILE DETENTION CENTERS
14 (1999) (“Unnecessary detention almost inevitably contributes to crowding, and crowded facilities have a much harder time meeting
legal and professional standards for confinement.”).