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Court halts solitary confinement of juveniles in Rutherford County

By Stephanie Carson • Updated Mar 28, 2017 at 2:00 PM

MURFREESBORO – Tennessee counties may be reconsidering their use of solitary confinement for juveniles after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Rutherford County, where many Wilson County juveniles are sent, from subjecting youths to isolation cells. 

The ruling comes as a result of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 15-year-old detainee who was held in confinement for five days. His attorney, Mark Downton, questioned what would happen if a parent inflicted a similar punishment.

“I believe if a parent did anything like this to a child, DCS would remove that child from a parent’s care; they would consider it barbaric and abusive,” Dawnton said. “And it’s appalling to me that the state and county governments can engage is such behavior, the same behavior that would cause a parent to lose their rights.”

Downton’s case now is a class action suit representing all juveniles placed in solitary confinement in the county since April 2015. Court records show that 128 juveniles in Rutherford County were put in isolation as punishment during seven months in 2016. 

Calls to the Rutherford County attorney for comment were not returned.

A recent report by the ACLU found numerous studies demonstrating that solitary confinement can have long-term negative psychological effects on youth, and also can exacerbate existing mental issues. Downton explained further.

“This is a practice that amounts almost to the level of torture to children,” he said. “Kids particularly, more than adults, need stimulation and they need some sort of contact with the world. And what happens in solitary confinement is all of that stimuli is removed from them. “

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama banned the practice for juveniles in the federal prison system. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services guidelines about solitary confinement of juveniles do not extend to county facilities.

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