By Staff –
The New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York have reached an agreement with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office to end the practice of solitary confinement of juveniles at the Onondaga County Justice Center in Syracuse, the groups said.
NYCLU and LSCNY filed a lawsuit in 2016 that claimed the jail routinely used solitary confinement as a disciplinary method for 16- and 17-year-old teenage inmates—regardless of the juveniles’ mental health history, and typically for minor offenses.
The Syracuse NAACP also signed onto the lawsuit claiming that African American and Latino inmates were disproportionately affected by the practice.
“Today begins a new and more hopeful chapter for children at the Justice Center in Syracuse,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman stated. “This settlement ensures that kids can be kids at the Justice Center, and are no longer discarded and abused by officials during an especially formative and vulnerable time in their lives. These teenagers will now receive the education and counseling that any child deserves.”
According to NYCLU, the agreement will last through October 2019, pending the court’s approval.
And, under the terms of the new agreement, 16- and 17-year-olds will only be confined to their cells when there is an imminent safety threat that less restrictive measures cannot adequately resolve.
“In such cases, this confinement will last for only the minimum time necessary to resolve an imminent safety threat,” the group said.
The Syracuse City School District was also named in the lawsuit, for failing to adequately educate the teens when they were confined.
However, according to NYCLU officials, SCSD will now work in conjunction with the justice center to “provide access to educational instruction, special education services and an incentive program that encourages positive behavior.”
The teens will also receive individualized plans that identify and accommodate special needs, will receive mental health counseling, and will be supervised by a multi-disciplinary team trained to work with juveniles, the group said.
“This settlement agreement will end, once and for all, the Onondaga County Justice Center’s cruel and unconstitutional practice of punishing juveniles with solitary confinement,” Josh Cotter, a staff attorney at Legal Services of Central New York and co-counsel on the case, stated. “Thanks to the settlement agreement, Syracuse’s children who are held at the Justice Center will no longer be subject to lengthy periods of complete isolation, and will instead have more programming and educational options available to aid in their transition back into the community.”
The groups filed the lawsuit on behalf of all juveniles held in solitary at the Justice Center, led by six black and Latino plaintiffs, ages 16 and 17.
Visit https://www.nyclu.org/en/news/settlement-will-reform-solitary-confinement-children-syracuse-jail for additional information regarding the agreement.