WA juvenile detention reforms solitary confinement practices upon settling lawsuit

Jul 29, 2022, 9:41 AM

solitary confinement cell...

(John Doman / MediaNews Group / St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images)

(John Doman / MediaNews Group / St. Paul Pioneer Press via Getty Images)

Columbia Legal Services has reached a $102,000 settlement in its lawsuit against the Department of Children, Youth and Family (DCYF) for detaining three teens in solitary confinement, depriving them of food, water, sleep, and access to bathrooms.

As a result of the lawsuit, DCYF is changing its policy on sending youth to solitary confinement, looking to minimize its uses in youth detention facilities by requiring stricter standards for its use as a punishment.

In 2018, Michael Rogers, then 17 years old, was forced into a Chehalis cell of an adult jail, isolated for months, for refusing to verbally consent to a strip search. In response to the treatment, he and two others filed a lawsuit for the “inhumane treatment.”

AG Ferguson looks to end solitary confinement for juveniles

This wasn’t the first time that Rodgers and the other boys, Damien Rivera and Ron Ackerson, have faced solitary confinement. On multiple occasions, they have been locked up in solitary, hands bound behind their backs, unable to eat, drink, or sleep for hours. Sentenced to nine years for their involvement in the robbery and murder of another teen, Wesley Gennings, Rodgers was sent to Green Hill School, a youth prison in Chehalis where they were repeatedly subject to solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement has repeatedly been shown to have serious long-term effects on prisoners, and the American Civil Liberties Union has decried its use on minors because of its impacts on their ability to reintegrate into society.

“Because their brains are still developing, children are highly susceptible to the prolonged psychological stress that comes from being isolated in prisons and jails,” Amy Roe, a senior writer for the ACLU said. “This stress can inhibit the development of parts of the brain—such as the pre-frontal cortex, which governs impulse control— causing irreparable damage. In other words, children subjected to solitary confinement are forced into a hole so deep they may never be able to climb out.”

“I’m happy that they are changing stuff so that no one has to go through the traumatic experience of being locked up in handcuffs and dealing with all that because it affects your psychology and your brain and everything,” said plaintiff Damien Rivera of the lawsuit’s outcome.

In addition to the damages awarded for the psychological torment undergone by the teens, the lawsuit also stipulates that the DCYF would work with Columbia Legal Services (CLS) to create new policies around strip searches and refusals. They have also changed the rules so that isolation and restraints cannot be used against youth for refusing a strip search unless there is a “specific, credible, ongoing threat to safety with no other way to resolve it.”

Youth who have been treated cruelly need a better answer from their caretakers than ‘This is just how things are done,’” said Sarah Nagy, a CLS attorney for the plaintiffs. “Because of these young men, the youth who move through the system after them will have protection they didn’t have.” 


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WA juvenile detention reforms solitary confinement practices upon settling lawsuit