|Periodic Review of Regulation Governing Juvenile Secure Detention Centers
|Ended on 7/23/2021
The disAbility Law Center of Virginia (dLCV), the Commonwealth’s federally mandated protection and advocacy system, respectfully submits the following public comment in relation to the Department of Juvenile Justice’s (DJJ’s) periodic review of its Regulation Governing Juvenile Secure Detention Centers. dLCV strongly urges DJJ to amend these regulations to ensure the protection and proper treatment of youth in secure detention centers throughout Virginia. dLCV has several recommendations for amending the current proposed regulations:
Regarding the mechanical restraint chair, the current regulations specify that it may be used “to control residents whose behavior poses an imminent risk to the safety of the resident, staff, or others; for purposes of controlled movement, either from one area of the facility to another or to a destination outside the facility; and to address emergency situations.”[i] Currently, thirteen secure detention centers in Virginia have mechanical restraint chairs, though its use within these facilities is exceedingly rare. [ii] This highlights the ability for secure detention facilities to maintain the safety, security, and protection of residents without utilizing the device. Further, the mechanical restraint chair has been associated with severe risks, including traumatic and fatal events such as aspiration and asphyxiation. Additionally, little to no empirical evidence supports their use as therapeutic devices.[iii]
The use of spit guards and devices that may restrict breathing should be prohibited in secure detention facilities. Such devices have been linked to asphyxiation and death when used, especially when an individual is already experiencing a crisis. This device may also exacerbate symptoms that led to the initial behavior, rather than reducing those symptoms. For youth with severe trauma, this type of device only serves to promote re-traumatization and mistrust in those who are tasked with providing their care.
The current regulations task each secure detention facility with creating procedures regarding the actions and behaviors that can result in room restriction. The lack of standardized procedures and processes guiding the implementation of room restriction may pose significant harm to youth in secure detention facilities. Due to the detrimental physical and mental health risks posed by room restriction, it should only be used to abate an immediate threat when a resident’s actions pose a safety risk to others. Additionally, it should only be imposed after less restrictive interventions have been exhausted and should end immediately after the threat has ended. Room confinement as a punishment is antithetical to therapeutic and trauma informed treatment models of service provision and will cause greater harm to youth who are already vulnerable.
De-escalation strategies are essential in juvenile facilities to keep children safe and are critical to reduce the frequency of restraint usage.[iv] Emphasis should be placed on increasing therapeutic de-escalation tactics as well as finding ways to reduce the need for restraint and room confinements to control the behavior of youth in facilities.
DJJ should promptly amend the Regulation Governing Juvenile Secure Detention Centers to better protect the health, safety, and welfare of children being served by these services and programs throughout Virginia. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of dLCV’s public comment.
[i] Regulations Governing Secure Juvenile Detention Centers. 6VAC35-101-1130(A)
[ii] Board of Juvenile Justice. Nov 7, 2018. Meeting Minutes. Retrieved from http://www.djj.virginia.gov/pdf/bjj/board_minutes_november_7_2018_final.pdf
[iii] Disability rights California. June 8, 2020. The Cruel and Unusual Use of Restraint Chairs in California Jails A Call to Action. Retrieved from https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/system/files/file-attachments/Restraint-Chairs-in-California-Report.pdf
[iv] Mohr, W. K., Petti, T. A., & Mohr, B. D. (2003). Adverse Effects Associated with Physical Restraint. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 48(5), 330–337. https://doi.org/10.1177/070674370304800509