Report Shows a Stark Increase in Juvenile Solitary Confinement Usage Despite New State Law

By Xinhui Lin

LINCOLN, NE – In November 2020, a new law in the state of Nebraska took effect, tightening regulations on juvenile solitary confinement.

The state law stated solitary confinement should only be employed “when less-restrictive alternatives have been exhausted and juvenile poses immediate and substantial risk of harm to self or others.”

The ACLU said the aim of the reformation is to restrict the number of instances in which juveniles can be placed alone in confinement.

However, a 2022-2023 report from the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare has raised alarming concerns, noting, contrary to the intended impact of the law, the report reveals a stark increase in the utilization and duration of juvenile solitary confinement across the state.

Comparing data with the previous fiscal year (2021-2022), the report indicates “a 44 percent increase in the total number of confinement incidents, a 32 percent increase in total confinement hours, and a 24 percent increase in the total number of confined youth.” This trend signals a departure from the objectives set by the state law.

Specific instances cited in the report underscore the severity of the issue. At the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney, confinement incidents skyrocketed from 2359 to 9010 in just two consecutive fiscal years. At the Lancaster County Youth Services Center, a youth was confined for at least 13 hours for 129 days.

The data shows that juvenile solitary confinement “is not being used as a last resort or in a time-limited manner,” contradicting the law’s mandate, the ACLU of Nebraska stated.

“This report is a waving red flag,” ACLU of Nebraska Policy Fellow Jason Witmer warned. “We are talking about something happening to some of our state’s most vulnerable kids in spite of laws that are meant to ensure isolating children is employed only as a last resort and for the shortest duration necessary.”

Witmer called for immediate action, urging officials to address the issue promptly.

“Officials need to act on this now. I know firsthand from enduring it myself that no one, particularly youth, should have to face days, weeks, or in some cases months alone under confinement. These kids are being harmed in a way that they will carry for life.”

In the report from the Office of Inspector General, it suggests “to achieve a true reduction in the use of juvenile room confinement, facilities implement dedicated staff for oversight within the facilities and the Legislature must understand the needs of these facilities better.”

Civil rights organizations have long been at the forefront of efforts to address these legal issues. The ACLU of Nebraska organized a multiyear campaign leading up to the passage of the solitary protections for youth, which began with its 2016 report “Growing Up Locked Down” to provide thorough data about juvenile solitary confinement in Nebraska.

As stated in the 2016 report, the use of solitary confinement on children violates multiple constitutional amendments, including the 8th, 5th, and 14th Amendments, along with provisions of the Nebraska State Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“It is time to scrutinize the use of solitary confinement on children,” the report emphasized in the introduction. “Nebraska should strictly limit and uniformly regulate isolation practices to ensure our state comports with best practices that provide positive outcomes for vulnerable youth and to ensure Nebraska quickly remedies potential systemic legal issues.”

Despite previous legal efforts, including the ACLU of Nebraska’s involvement in litigation challenging confinement conditions, the report underscores the need for continued vigilance and action to address systemic issues within the juvenile justice system.

About The Author

Xinhui Lin is a first-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles, pursuing a double major in Public Affairs and Sociology on a Pre-law track. Her unwavering commitment to addressing social injustices is deeply rooted in her cultural background and her personal experiences while growing up in Shanghai, China. Xinhui keenly observed the pervasive gender and racial inequalities, the subtle yet significant discrimination against minority groups, and the everyday micro-aggressions that disenfranchised individuals face. After exploring the philosophical question regarding the intricate relationship between power, morality, and justice, Xinhui kindled her interest in the intricacies of the criminal justice system – a cornerstone of society meant to epitomize principles of justice and fairness. Her commitment to understanding and improving this system is evident in her aspirations to potentially pursue a career as an attorney, with a strong desire to advocate for disadvantaged individuals.

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