NYCLU Files Lawsuit To End Solitary Confinement for Teens

Grace Church is proud of the efforts of The Rev. Johanna Marcure, her husband Rabbi Joe Murray, and many others at Grace who have dedicated their time to working with youth in the criminal justice system, as well as fighting for an end to the solitary confinement of teens at the Justice Center.  Through their work with The Grace Project, and their relationship with community partners such as ACTS Syracuse,  it is their hope that the practice of youthful solitary confinement will be ended once and for all.

The information in this article from today, on gives us hope…

SYRAC– USE, N.Y. — The practice of holding teenagers in solitary confinement at the Onondaga County Justice Center has become the subject of a class-action lawsuit filed by state civil rights groups alleging the punishment violates Constitutional rights and harms young minds.

More than 80 teens, most of them of minority races, were held in solitary confinement at the Onondaga County Justice Center between October 2015 and August 2016, according to a federal class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday by the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York.

The lawsuit is filed on behalf of six 17-year-olds, identified by their initials, currently incarcerated at the Justice Center, including in solitary confinement. The lawsuit alleges the teens are being placed at risk of serious harm to their physical and mental health. The suit said teens in such isolation entertain thoughts of suicide and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The lawsuit alleges the teens are held in isolation in “barren” cells that are 7 feet by 9 feet for 23 hours a day. While in the cells, adults imprisoned nearby “threaten to douse them in feces and urine and to sexually assault them.”

“You can’t see anything but black walls closing in on you. It’s like the cells are designed to make you act crazy,” said Randy Pope, 16, who is not suing but spoke at a Wednesday news conference of his experience. “I tried doing crossword puzzles but kept thinking about killing myself.”

Pope said he was placed in “the box” for two days after a verbal argument over a basketball with another inmate.

Sgt. Jon Seeber at the sheriff’s office declined to comment due to the pending litigation.

The lawsuit names Conway, Justice Center Chief Custody Deputy Esteban Gonzalez, Assistant Chief Custody Deputy Kevin M. Brisso and the Syracuse City School District, which provides education to school-aged inmates at the jail. A school district spokesman said he was unaware of the lawsuit and declined immediate comment.

The lawsuit also alleges one deputy played a game with teen inmates on the jail basketball court in which he sent inmates to isolation if they made a jump shot and guessed a number. Attorney Joshua Cotter of Legal Services of Central New York said this game happened more than once.

The NYCLU declined to identify the deputy but staff said the story was corroborated by “multiple” inmates at the jail.

A local organization, Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse, has been pushing for such a change for at least a year. It appeared that the practice might have ended when county leaders announced juvenile inmates would be transferred from the Jamesville Correctional Facility to the Justice Center.

“But the celebration was premature,” the lawsuit states.

The NYCLU said 86 teens were placed in solitary confinement around 250 times between October 2015 and August 2016 at the Justice Center. The lawsuit said teens are locked inside the jail sometimes for “weeks and months on end.”

Luchele Chisunka, of ACTS, said the organization started hearing continued stories from teen inmates subject to solitary confinement in the winter of 2015 and found “data that confirmed eyewitness accounts.”

“This practice is particularly disturbing because almost all of the children are children of color,” she said.

The plaintiffs have spent between 30 and 115 days in isolation, according to the lawsuit. One teenage boy spent 400 days in isolation and one girl spent 102 days in isolation, according to the lawsuit.

Samuel Young, director of advocacy at Legal Services CNY, said at the news conference that criminal justice practices and law in Onondaga County are particularly harmful for 16- and 17-year-olds accused of crimes. That’s because New York hasn’t raised the age for suspects capable of being tried as adults and because juvenile solitary confinement has continued.

“Even the infamous Rikers Island has recognized that solitary confinement of juveniles must stop,” Young said. “One of the only places in the country where a 16- or 17- year-old child can find themselves in a solitary confinement cell …. is in our very own Onondaga County Justice Center.”

The lawsuit states the jail has 30 to 40 “dimly lit” cells on two floors inside the jail. Pope and the lawsuit said the cells smell strongly of urine and feces, and “the dark green walls are marred by scratch marks from previous occupants,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also said studies show how psychologically harmful the practice can be especially for young adults who will eventually be released from jail and return to society.

The lawsuit asks for an injunction on the practice, for a declaration that juvenile solitary is unconstitutional and for damages.

#EndSolitary, InLiquid Highlights the Voices of Solitary Confinement

Help us #EndSolitary. Listen to the stories of those affected.

Inliquid Projects: Juvenile In Justice: End Solitary @ Eastern State

We are currently in the midst of a national movement to end the solitary confinement of children. In January, President Obama banned solitary confinement of juveniles in federal facilities and highlighted the physical, emotional and social harms the practice inflicts on children. Many jurisdictions have since followed suit, prohibiting or greatly restricting the practice of solitary confinement for juveniles. However, solitary confinement is still routinely employed in a majority of states.

InLiquid, Juvenile Law Center, and Richard Ross are collaborating on a multi-site exhibition of Ross’ photographs, which document the incarceration of children in the U.S. This exhibit includes five select images from his Juvenile In Justice series paired with a collection of audio recordings of Ross’ personal interviews with detained youth. Youths’ firsthand descriptions of detention and solitary confinement complement the raw and eerily beautiful images, providing a moving, immersive experience of what it is like to grow up confined.