|Periodic Review of Regulation Governing Juvenile Secure Detention Centers
|Ended on 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
LEGAL AID JUSTICE CENTER
Intern, Youth Justice Program
Attorney, Youth Justice Program
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