Federal Government Steps in to Stop Seclusion of Mentally Ill Juvenile Offenders in Ohio


Ohio juvenile correctional facilities have come under scrutiny for locking young mentally ill offenders in seclusion. According to a lawsuit recently filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, secluding young mentally ill offenders is a form of unlawful punishment, and one that causes "real, irreparable harm."

The federal agency filed the lawsuit this past Wednesday – March 12 – in an effort to compel the state of Ohio to change its policies. According to federal officials, four of Ohio's juvenile correctional facilities have violated the due process of young offenders with mental health disorders by locking them into seclusion.

Seclusion, feds claim, has become the MO for several juvenile correctional facilities, with roughly 60,000 hours of seclusion imposed on boys in 2013 alone. Typically, seclusion is used as a form of punishment, similar to solitary confinement. Ohio facilities have been found to impose seclusion for days on end, often depriving boys of education, exercise, and behavioral health services. The use of solitary confinement and seclusion for adult and mentally sound inmates has long been scrutinized for being inhumane and counterproductive to rehabilitation. For mentally ill individuals, it can prove detrimental.

Mental Health Disorders & the Criminal Justice System

In recent years, advocates throughout the country have raised boisterous concerns about the ways in which mentally ill offenders are handled within the criminal justice system. Although there have been many positive changes and an increased focus on providing the mentally ill with the help they need, the system and policies in place are still far from perfect. For example, the Justice Department also raised concerns about the inadequate mental health care being provided in Ohio's juvenile correctional facilities.

Many organizations and mental health advocates are in support of the federal lawsuit, which will hopefully provide the catalyst for change. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio urged the youth prison department to ban seclusion entirely. Because these unlawful policies are used to punish youth with mental health needs, Feds say, they victimize one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. This, many are hoping, will soon change.

If your child has been charged with a crime, or if you have questions about defending against a juvenile crime, call Koffel Brininger Nesbitt at 614-675-4845.