Courts often base their decisions upon a finding that the facility lacked sufficient policies and
procedures regulating how isolation can be used, thus denying the youth sufficient procedural due
process protections. Other courts focus attention on the treatment received while the youth is
isolated, such as healthcare, reading materials, outdoor exercise, and/or social integration. For
youth with a documented history of serious mental illness, or who develop serious mental illness
while incarcerated, courts have also recognized the risk of self-harm and the exacerbation of
psychological symptoms. But the application of legal and professional standards in challenging
the overuse of isolation does not fully address the physical, psychological, and social damage that
comes from the unnecessary use of isolation with youth. Such challenges should draw more
expansively from the application of evidence-based practices, research on promising approaches,
and the United States Supreme Court’s affirmation that constitutional protections apply
differently to youth.
This Article begins with a definition and description of isolation and its varied uses in
juvenile detention and correctional facilities, which are often indicative of underlying problems in
a system’s behavior management program, staffing, or underlying correctional philosophy. This
Article next examines how research on the harmful effects of isolation on adults, combined with
emerging best practices and an adolescent development framework, can help structure a harm-based analysis to strictly minimize or eliminate the use of isolation practices in juvenile facilities.
The subsequent section focuses on the legal and professional standards currently available to
guide juvenile detention and correctional programs in their use of isolation practices, whether to
manage, treat or discipline youth. This section argues that the application of these standards can
and should utilize a more robust harm-based analysis in addition to procedural due process
considerations, and take into account developmental differences between youth and adults.
Finally, this Article concludes with recommendations and promising practices that can eliminate
or drastically reduce the use of isolation for youth in confinement.
II. TYPES AND USES OF ISOLATION
Isolation is used for a variety of purposes in juvenile facilities. Nevertheless, there is not
one uniform definition of isolation that is used in correctional settings, nor is there agreement
among jurisdictions as to how and why isolation should be used. For purposes of this Article,
isolation is defined as a mechanism for physical and social isolation in a cell for an extended
period of time, up to twenty-four hours a day for one or more days, regardless of the purpose for
which it is imposed.6
Identified purposes of isolation used in juvenile facilities as described by the American
Corrections Association include discipline, protection, and management of special populations.7
Disciplinary isolation is used as a result of rule infractions for a limited amount of time, and
generally follows a hearing regarding that infraction.8 The use of isolation for protective custody
refers to instances where youth need protection from others until other housing is found.9
Isolation used for special management of youth typically involves high-risk youth with assaultive
behavior, or youth who present a danger to themselves.10
6 See IAN KYSEL, HUMAN RIGHTS WA TCH, AM. CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION, GROWING UP LOCKED DO WN: YOU TH IN SOLI TARY
CONFINEMENT IN JAILS AND PRISONS ACROSS THE UNI TED STATES 1 (2012), available at
7 AM. CORR. ASS’N, PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARDS FOR JUVENILE CORRECTIONAL FACILI TIES 51-52 (4th ed. 2008).
8 Id. at 52 (Standards 4-JCF-3C-03, 4-JCF-3C-04).
9 Id. at 51 (Standard 4-JCF-3C-02).