The United States announced today that it has joined with the state of Ohio in seeking the termination of a consent decree with the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS), recognizing Ohio’s successful elimination of its use of disciplinary solitary confinement on children in its custody and its improvement of individualized mental health treatment for children formerly at risk of such confinement.
DYS pledged in the consent decree on May 21, 2014, to dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate its use of solitary confinement on children in its custody. DYS also committed to ensure that children in its juvenile facilities receive individualized mental health treatment to prevent and address the conditions and behaviors that led to solitary confinement. Ohio also committed to reduce the potential harms caused by solitary confinement by increasing access to therapeutic, educational and recreational services while a child is in solitary confinement and addressing the child’s behavior that led to acts of violence.
The consent decree resolved allegations that Ohio subjected children with mental health needs to harmful solitary confinement and withheld treatment and programming, in violation of their constitutional rights. The consent decree included performance standards to measure compliance, and the monitors in the United States and S.H. cases monitored compliance jointly. In the order of termination, the court concluded that Ohio had complied with the terms and conditions of the consent decree.
In granting the joint motion to terminate the consent decree, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio noted the “remarkable improvement” in conditions of confinement at DYS juvenile facilities. The court commended DYS for numerous improvements, including the abolition of the practice of disciplinary solitary confinement, its “vastly improved” mental health services and a reduction in the incarcerated population from over 2000 children to fewer than 500 today. The experts who monitored the consent decree prepared and filed with the court a detailed report that explained the reforms DYS made “to memorialize [DYS’] major policy and practice decisions for the benefit of others in the field.”
“The state of Ohio, the administrators of the Department of Youth Services and their counsel are to be commended for their commitment to reforming Ohio’s juvenile correctional facilities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “Ohio’s achievements can serve as a model throughout the nation.”
“The termination of this consent decree illustrates state and federal cooperation to provide safer practices for children in Ohio juvenile facilities,” said U.S. Attorney Carter Stewart of the Southern District of Ohio.
“We are gratified that we were able to work together with our state partners to make juvenile justice in Ohio more rehabilitative,” said U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio.
The department first investigated conditions at Ohio juvenile correctional facilities in 2007 and found constitutional deficiencies in Ohio’s use of physical force, mental health care, grievance investigation and processing and use of solitary confinement. In June 2008, the department entered into a consent decree with Ohio to remedy these violations at two facilities that are now closed – the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility and the Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility. Simultaneously, private plaintiffs in the case S.H. v. Reed entered into a consent decree with Ohio regarding similar deficiencies at all of the state’s juvenile correctional facilities. However, between November 2013 and January 2014, data from the monitoring of both consent decrees revealed that Ohio had continued to use unlawful solitary confinement on children at Scioto and in the other facilities.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 authorizes the department to seek a remedy for a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional or federal statutory rights of youth in juvenile justice institutions. Please visit the Civil Rights Division’s website to learn more about this act and other laws the Civil Rights Division enforces.
This agreement is due to the efforts of the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Ohio and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Ohio. The agreement was also due to the work of plaintiffs’ counsel in S.H., Alphonse Gerhardstein of Gerhardstein & Branch Co. LPA and Kim Tandy of the Children’s Law Center Inc., and to the leadership of DYS.