A new report from the Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare says juvenile solitary confinement has surged over the last year despite recent changes to state law meant to significantly limit the practice.
The report, which looks at changes over the last fiscal year, documents a 24% increase in the total number of confined youth, a 32% increase in the total hours they spent in confinement, and a 44% increase in the total number of “confinement incidents” — times when a youth was put into confinement. At one facility, the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center (YRTC) in Kearney, confinement hours nearly quadrupled, jumping from 2,359 in FY 21-22 to 9,010 in FY 22-23.
The office behind the report says the findings show inconsistent adherence to state law, pointing to reforms introduced by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks and championed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nebraska that highly restricted the instances in which juveniles can be placed alone in confinement.
ACLU of Nebraska Policy Fellow Jason Witmer made this statement on the new report:
“This report is a waving red flag,” Witmer said. “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. 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.”
The ACLU of Nebraska organized a multiyear campaign leading up to the passage of the solitary protections for youth, which began in earnest with its 2016 report “Growing Up Locked Down.” The civil rights organization is currently litigating a case challenging use of confinement and other conditions in the shuttered YRTC in Geneva, which happened before the passage of the new protections.