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Conditions of Confinement: Keeping Youth Safe in Juvenile Justice Facilities. Dana Shoenberg Senior Staff Attorney Center for Children’s Law and Policy. Why wait?.

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conditions of confinement keeping youth safe in juvenile justice facilities

Conditions of Confinement: Keeping Youth Safe in Juvenile Justice Facilities

Dana Shoenberg

Senior Staff Attorney

Center for Children’s Law and Policy

why wait
Why wait?
  • Final PREA standards may not be out yet, but facilities and systems can examine themselves through a sexual misconduct prevention lens
  • Today’s presentation will highlight aspects of facility conditions important to keeping youth safe from sexual misconduct and harassment
key concepts to think about
Key concepts to think about
  • Isolation, vulnerability, power
juvenile detention alternatives initiative jdai
Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI)
  • Project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • Active in approximately 100 jurisdictions in 22 states across the country
  • Seeks to reduce unnecessary incarceration of youth while maintaining public safety
  • 8 core strategies include developing alternatives to detention, ensuring safe and humane conditions of confinement and reducing racial and ethnic disparities.
jdai facility assessment standards
JDAI Facility Assessment Standards
  • The instrument combines:
    • Constitutional caselaw (1st, 4th, 6th, and 14th Amendments)
    • Federal statutes and regulations (JJDPA, IDEA, §504 , ADA, Title IX, RLUIPA)
    • State statutes and caselaw
    • Professional Standards of Best Practice


  • And reflects the values of JDAI
  • Provides guidance for stakeholder teams assessing conditions in their local facilities
jdai facility assessment process
JDAI Facility Assessment Process
  • Recommended team makeup: experts in education, mental health, medical care, rights of youth with disabilities, family members, attorneys, juvenile justice stakeholder agencies and some facility staff
  • Report findings, facilities create remedial plans, work proceeds as part of JDAI reform efforts
  • Can be replicated for any institution, doesn’t have to be part of JDAI
  • Full guidance materials available at
conditions topics can be divided into
Conditions Topics Can Be Divided Into…

Classification and intake system

Health and mental health care

Access to counsel, the courts, and family

Programming, education, and recreation

Training and supervision of staff

Environmental issues

Restraints, isolation, due process, and grievances

Safety for youth and staff

classification and intake
Classification and Intake
  • Youth with serious medical or mental health needs that can’t be met by the facility should not be sent there.
  • Is the facility overcrowded? Overtaxed facilities have a harder time keeping youth safe.
  • Appropriate age limitations
classification and intake cont
Classification and Intake, cont.
  • Youth’s immediate and long-term individual needs are screened at intake so that the facility can meet their needs:
    • Disabilities
    • Health and mental health issues
    • Educational status and history
    • Family information
  • Intake/detention interviews occur in private
  • Information sharing limited to need-to-know
classification and intake cont1
Classification and Intake, cont.
  • For housing, programming and job assignments, staff consider youth characteristics, including:
    • Age, suicide risk, history of violence or prior victimization, current charges, alleged sex offenses, and when appropriate, gang affiliation
    • Size, maturity, presence of mental/physical disabilities
  • No automatic policies based on race or sexual orientation of youth
  • Facilities should have individualized plans as needed for particular youths’ safety and well-being, and be prepared to keep especially vulnerable populations safe without resort to isolation
  • Orientation for all youth should include:
    • Institutional rights
    • Rules and discipline
    • Procedures
    • How to report if feel unsafe
    • Accessing health and mental health services
    • Grievance system
  • In youth’s primary language and with attention to the youth’s literacy needs
  • Must help youth understand appropriate boundaries, right to be free from sexual misconduct, multiple reporting options
health and mental health care
Health and Mental Health Care
  • Services should be provided with sensitivity to youths’ histories of physical and sexual victimization and with informed consent
  • Mental health screening for all, with follow-up assessment and treatment planning for youth with positive screens
  • Opportunity to access mental health care later in stay – staff and youth understand and have access to the referral process
  • Staff not barriers to care
  • Youth with sexual victimization histories should receive mental health services from staff with special expertise or have access to outside practitioners
access telephone mail and visitation
Access: Telephone, Mail and Visitation
  • Youth need to communicate with people they trust in order to reduce isolation and support return to their communities.
telephone mail and visitation cont
Telephone, Mail and Visitation, cont.
  • Check for:
    • Low limits on numbers of letters a youth may write
    • Phone calls too short to complete collect calls and have meaningful conversation
    • Prohibitive costs of telephone calls without options for indigent families
    • Visitation times that are unrealistic for working families
    • Are there opportunities for youth to visit with their children and with important mentors?
access to courts
Access to Courts
  • Check for:
    • Youth access to legal assistance for needs beyond their delinquency matters
    • Can youth make and complete freeand confidential calls to attorneys?
    • Are private areas available for confidential attorney visits at reasonable times?
    • Is legal correspondence kept confidential?

Active schedules of education and other programming keep youth engaged, busy and developing new skills.

  • Do youth on segregation status have more education than just homework packets?
  • How do limited English proficient youth get information, education, participate in activities?
  • Are youth with disabilities getting services they need?
programming cont
Programming, cont.
  • Does programming reflect the needs and interests of youth?
  • Are girls receiving opportunities equivalent to the boys?
  • Can youth practice their religions and have access to appropriate clergy?
programming cont1
Programming, cont.

Behavior management systems should be implemented fairly and reward good behavior.

To the extent possible, institutional culture emphasizes rewarding success in lieu of focusing on or punishing failure

Youth understand the graduated scale of incentives for positive behavior

Rewards and sanctions are implemented fairly and consistently

Behavior management system is institution-wide


programming cont2
Programming, cont.

Findings from the Survey of Youth in Residential Placement:

Risk of victimization is related to perceived fairness and accessibility of staff.

Youth who:

Were beaten up

Had property stolen

Were forced to engage in sexual activity

Were twice as likely to report that staff were not accessible and did not treat residents fairly than to report that staff were accessible and fair.


training and supervision
Training and Supervision


Pre-employment record checks and periodic re-screening

Sufficient staff to ensure adequate and continuous supervision of youth, visitation, transportation to health appointments, and other scheduled activities

Staff do not sleep while on duty

Female staff always on duty in girls’ living units

Staff have sufficient language capability to serve limited English proficient youth


training and supervision cont
Training and Supervision, cont.

Training includes:

Clear messages about prevention, intervention and response to sexual misconduct, including need to report, consequences for failing to report and how institutional security can be compromised by sexual misconduct

Understanding adolescent development

How to identify red flags and report them

Strategies for working with youth with mental health needs and identifying need for mental health intervention

How to handle sensitive disclosures by youth


training and supervision cont1
Training and Supervision, cont.

Strong supervisory presence on all shifts is essential to ensure that:

Staff do not use profanity, threats, intimidation, or humiliation with youth

No inappropriate physical contact or personal relationships between staff and youth

Facility management addresses alleged violations of standards of conduct

Staff do not allow youth to victimize one another


training and supervision cont2
Training and Supervision, cont.

Administrator or designee reviews major incident reports and all uses of physical force, restraints, isolation, injuries to youth or staff, and incidents involving contraband or major property damage

Supervisors track patterns of staff uses of force and discipline and youth complaints to guard against retaliation



Human and physical environments respectful of youth and not sexualized; no culture of secrecy

Youth have sufficient opportunity for personal hygiene and all necessary products

Size-appropriate, clean and non-penal clothing



Search process within legal bounds and adequate to prevent weapons and dangerous contraband from entering the facility through youth, staff and visitors

Rooms are not occupied by more youth than the rated capacity allows

Reasonable opportunity for privacy when unclothed – importance of bodily privacy for adolescents


restraints isolation due process and grievances
Restraints, Isolation, Due Process and Grievances

Physical force, restraints, and isolation are used only when truly needed to protect youth or others, only as long as needed, and cease once the youth is under control

Due process protections for major rule violations should include:

Notice of violation/charges

Opportunity to present youth’s side of the incident

Right to decision before time served

Neutral decision-maker

Opportunity to appeal



Effective, reliable systems for youth to report abuses and other concerns are essential.

Youth know about and understand the grievance process and have access to forms, writing implements and other means of reporting

Grievances are confidential and without reprisal

All grievances are fully investigated

Written, legible, respectful responses to grievances that address the issues raised

Appropriate action taken in response to valid grievances


safety youth staff
Safety: Youth - Staff

Any and all sexual harassment or sexual conduct between staff and youth is prohibited; a prevention, investigation and appropriate response plan is in place

Staff provide support to youth after allegations of abuse by staff

Staff are trained to handle assaultive behavior by youth in ways that minimize injury to everyone involved, and backup support is available if needed


safety youth youth
Safety: Youth - Youth

Youth can report incidents of threats or harm by other youth without reprisal

Staff address the behavior of youth who threaten or victimize others

Youth are not transported to and from the facility in the presence of adult inmates

Objects that can be used as weapons are properly stored and secured


contact information
Contact Information

Dana Shoenberg, Senior Staff Attorney

Center for Children’s Law and Policy

202-637-0377 x107