The New York Times writes:
Solitary confinement can be psychologically damaging for any inmate, but it is especially perverse when it is used to discipline children and teenagers. At juvenile detention centers and adult prisons and jails across the country, minors are locked in isolated cells for 22 hours or more a day. A recent Justice Department review of suicides in juvenile facilities found that more than half of the minors who had killed themselves had done so in isolation.
The problem isn’t isolated to detention centers. This story is bone-chilling, describing what is essentially the torture of a child:
Rose had speech and language delays. At school, her mother and I found Rose standing alone on the cement floor of a basement mop closet, illuminated by a single light bulb. There was nothing in the closet for a child — no chair, no books, no crayons, nothing but our daughter standing naked in a pool of urine, looking frightened as she tried to cover herself with her hands. On the floor lay her favorite purple-striped Hanna Andersson outfit and panties.
Rose got dressed and we removed her from the school. We later learned that Rose had been locked in the closet five times that morning. She said that during the last confinement, she needed to use the restroom but didn’t want to wet her outfit. So she disrobed. Rather than help her, the school called us and then covered the narrow door’s small window with a file folder, on which someone had written “Don’t touch!”
We were told that Rose had been in the closet almost daily for three months, for up to an hour at a time. At first, it was for behavior issues, but later for not following directions. Once in the closet, Rose would pound on the door, or scream for help, staff members said, and once her hand was slammed in the doorjamb while being locked inside.
The use of restraints and seclusion has become far more routine than it should be. “They’re the last resort too often being used as the first resort,” said Jessica Butler, a lawyer in Washington who has written about seclusion in public schools. Among the recent instances that have attracted attention: Children in Middletown, Conn., told their parents that there was a “scream room” in their school where they could hear other children who had been locked away; last December, Sandra Baker of Harrodsburg, Ky., found her fourth-grade son, Christopher, who had misbehaved, stuffed inside a duffel bag, its drawstrings pulled tight, and left outside his classroom. He was “thrown in the hall like trash,” she told me. And in April, Corey Foster, a 16-year-old with learning disabilities, died on a school basketball court in Yonkers, N.Y., as four staff members restrained him following a confrontation during a game.
A 14-year old student in a special education classroom in Texas, Cedric was living with a foster family because of a history of neglect, including malnutrition. But on this day in 2002, his teacher tried to punish him by withholding food, despite the abuse he had suffered as a young child. Cedric’s teacher delayed his lunch for hours to discipline him for refusing to do his work. When he wouldn’t comply, his teacher put him in a face down restraint and sat on him in front of his classmates. Cedric said repeatedly that he could not breathe. He died minutes later on the classroom floor.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, over the last 20 years there have been hundreds of allegations of school personnel using restraint and seclusion in abusive ways on children. It’s happening disproportionately to students with disabilities, often at the hands of untrained staff. Many of these students bear haunting physical and emotional scars. And in a number of cases, students have died. It’s difficult to believe, but there are no federal laws to prevent this from happening.
In April, a 9-year-old Montreal boy with autism died of suffocation when a special education teacher wrapped him in a weighted blanket to calm him, according to the coroner’s report. Two Michigan public school students with autism have died while being held on the ground in so-called prone restraint.
“In all the years I went to school, I never, ever saw or heard of anything like the horrific stories about restraint that we see just about every day now,” said Alison Tepper Singer, executive vice president of Autism Speaks, a charity dedicated to curing the disorder.
In an extensive report published last year, investigators in California documented cases of abuse from districts in the San Francisco Bay Area, the suburbs of Los Angeles and in the rural northeastern part of the state. During the 2005-6 school year, an 8-year-old with a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder and mild mental retardation was repeatedly locked in a “seclusion room” alone, adjacent to the classroom — at least 31 times in a single year. His parents heard about it from another parent, who saw the boy trying in vain to escape.
In another school, a teacher held a 12-year-old with a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder “face down on the floor, straddling him at his hips, and holding his hands behind his back,” according to the investigation, which was done by California’s office of protection and advocacy.
That this ever happens is shocking. That it’s going on around us all the time is an unspeakable outrage.