The Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida Legal Services, and Florida Justice filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice for the improper treatment of children within their facility, the Miami Herald reports.
According to the lawsuit, officials at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice have been placing children in isolation rooms for minor acts such as horseplay and peeling wall paint.
Children placed in isolation are allowed to leave only to shower. Sometimes, children had to resort to banging on the doors or smearing feces on the walls to get the guards’ attention.
Children are especially vulnerable to the drastic effects of solitary confinement, including a higher risk of suicidal behavior and mental health problems, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit’s plaintiffs are three juveniles in North Florida who each have records of mental illness or disabilities. One boy who was placed in solitary multiple times attempted to choke himself on one occasion using his pants. An officer removed the pants from around his neck and spoke to the boy, but the boy proceeded to choke himself again when the officer left.
Other cases involved a pregnant 16-year-old who was placed into solitary and a 13-year-old with a mood disorder who was kept in solitary after another child punched her in the face.
According to data from the DJJ cited in the lawsuit, the department placed 4,310 children in isolation 11,738 times over the course of about a year.
Vice chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee Sen. Jeff Brandes said he is fully against placing children in solitary confinement for long periods of time. However, he believes separation is necessary when someone is acting violently.
He said the committee plans to address solitary confinement during this legislative session and to find statutory fixes.
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