|Action||Periodic Review of Regulation Governing Juvenile Secure Detention Centers|
|Comment Period||Ends 7/23/2021|
To the Board of Juvenile Justice:
Thank you for this opportunity to provide public comment on the Board of Juvenile Justice’s proposed Regulation Governing Juvenile Secure Detention Centers. The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) is a Charlottesville-based nonprofit organization that partners with communities and clients to achieve justice by dismantling systems that create and perpetuate poverty. Our Youth Justice Program works to ensure children have access to a high-quality public education, evidence-based community supports, mental health services, and a truly restorative youth justice system.
LAJC Urges the Board to Prohibit Mechanical Restraint Chairs,
Spit Guards, and Involuntary Room Restriction
While LAJC understands that amendments to regulations for the use of mechanical restraint chairs, spit guards, and room restriction are meant to enhance safety for young people and staff, LAJC urges the Board to prohibit the use of these methods of restraint. LAJC recognizes that situations calling for methods of restraint and seclusion are complex, and we have respect for all the interests involved when a crisis occurs. However, no matter how well regulated, these methods are unsafe and antithetical to the Department’s goals of community safety and juvenile rehabilitation. Further, prohibiting methods of seclusion and restraint would align with the Department’s commitment to trauma-informed practice.
For rehabilitation to be feasible, young people must feel physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe while in the Department’s care. Methods of restraint and seclusion create an unsafe environment for youth and undermine effective, long-lasting conflict resolution strategies. Secluding and physically restraining young people diminishes their ability to trust and engage with others and creates a coercive environment where young people are unable to form trusting, positive relations with staff.
Correctional facilities across the country have implemented methods of crisis intervention that keep youth and staff safe. Michael Umpierre from the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) at Georgetown University presented to the Board in November 2018, to inform the Board on methods and effectiveness of these alternatives. CJJR’s research shows that approaches to juvenile justice must be rooted in a developmental therapeutic approach designed to promote positive youth development and facilitate relationships with positive adults who will support the youth. With this aim in mind, CJJR recommends staff training in de-escalation strategies, providing youth with space in order to calm down in voluntary time-outs, and using physical force only when absolutely necessary in a way that is safe, proportional, well timed, and well executed.
Research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that a facility’s use of control measures, including restraint, is often linked with understaffing and overcrowding. According the Department of Planning and Budget’s Economic Impact Analysis, detention center compliance with the proposed amendments would impose additional administrative costs. LAJC urges the Board to amend regulations and policy to prohibit the use of restraint chairs, spit guards, and room restriction, and instead redirect these efforts toward holistic policies that priorities young people’s health, safety, and well-being.
Mechanical Restraint Chairs
LAJC encourages the Board to amend its regulations and policy to prohibit the use of mechanical restraint chairs in all facilities under its purview. Currently, only 12 or 13 of Virginia’s 24 detention centers have the mechanical restraint chair. The facilities that have the chair report that it is used rarely, if at all. That nearly half of JDCs don’t have restraint chairs shows the devise is not necessary to keep staff and youth safe and eliminating the chair from all JDC facilities is feasible.
Mechanical restraint is psychologically and physically damaging, and children are at higher risk of injuries or death when restraint is used. Being placed in a restraint chair can leave lingering psychological scars; some individuals experience recurrent nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and avoidance behaviors even years after the event. Further, risks of injury and death exist even when the restraint is applied correctly. As Dr. Kelly Dedel noted in her presentation to the Board, even when jurisdictions have policies that resemble the ones considered today, oversight mechanisms fail. Dr. Dedel cited team restraint, where designated crisis staff maintain a physically active role, as an alternative to the chair.
Many professional standards in the juvenile justice field explicitly prohibit or significantly limit the use of fixed restraints, particularly the restraint chair. The District of Columbia and Florida have banned using restraint chairs in juvenile justice facilities, and Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Missouri never use the restraint chair, but have yet to update their regulations. LAJC urges the Board to follow this nationwide trend and prohibit restraint chairs in JDC facilities.
LAJC respectfully requests the Board amend regulations and policy to prohibit use of spit guards in all its facilities. This Board prohibited use of spit guards on JDC residents in 2019, only to overturn the decision in 2020. We urge the Board to reconsider this position and prohibit the use of spit guards to prioritize young people’s safety and well-being.
Spit guards are physically and psychologically dangerous, especially when used on young people. Using spit guards may induce panic and emotional distress, mask signs of medical illnesses, pose a risk of suffocation, and inflict degrading and dehumanizing treatment. Spit hoods have been involved in at least ten deaths since 2001.
Though spit guards are intended to keep staff safe from transmittable diseases, studies suggest that the risk of acquiring serious infection from spitting is overstated. Additionally, studies show that spit guards do not reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and the process of placing a spit guard on a resident may actually increase risk of transmission. We do not intend to diminish the distress of staff who may be spat on, but this concern must be weighed against the safety and well-being of youth.
LAJC asks that the Board amend JDC regulations to prohibit putting youth into involuntary room restriction. The proposed amendments to 6 VAC 35-101-1100 adjust the language from “room confinement and isolation” to “room restriction,” but still carry the harm that comes with placing youth in solitary confinement.
Social isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, psychosis, and psychological and developmental harm. Children are especially vulnerable to the impacts of solitary confinement. Even after short periods of isolation, youth experience symptoms of paranoia, anxiety, and depression. Youth in solitary confinement show higher rates of suicide; one study found that out of all suicides in juvenile facilities, half the victims were in isolation at the time of death and 62% had a history of solitary confinement. Global concern about the devastative effect of youth isolation has given rise to calls for its abolition. The United Nations’ minimum standards for protection of youth in the juvenile justice system strictly prohibits the disciplinary use of closed or solitary confinement.
We thank the Board for the opportunity to provide this comment regarding these proposed regulations. Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact Rob Poggenklass at (434) 242-6479 or email@example.com.
LEGAL AID JUSTICE CENTER
Intern, Youth Justice Program
Attorney, Youth Justice Program