Lawsuit alleges solitary confinement at JJC violated 11-year-old's rights

A lawsuit alleges placing an 11-year-old in solitary confinement at the St. Joseph County Juvenile Justice Center violated the child's rights. // WSBT 22 photo

After allegations an 11-year-old spent days in solitary confinement at the St. Joseph County Juvenile Justice Center, the facility faces a lawsuit. The juvenile is now in a home facility.

In a lawsuit filed in a district court, the 11-year-old's parents say their son has special needs. They say his constitutional rights were violated when he was kept in a room by himself for long periods of time.

"Look at your 11-year-old, and see if you'd like to have them held for a week in a jail cell without reading material, without contact from their family, without contact with another human being," said Charlie Rice, an attorney for the parents.

In the pages of a lawsuit filed Monday, parents say that is what happened to their son. The lawsuit says the child has "a serious emotional disability."

Rice says between December 2016 and April 2017, the boy was subjected to multiple periods of punitive solitary confinement. The suit focuses on the privilege levels of children, saying the boy was held under the most stringent restrictions for up to a week at a time.

Court documents allege the juvenile spent a large portion of his time at the Juvenile Justice Center in some form of isolation away from in-person or telephone contact with his parents. Rice says the boy also spent time in an adult holding cell not meant for minors.

"We know he was held in there for a week -- being held in the adult holding cell -- and that's designed for a parent who failed to pay child support or something like that,” Rice said. “Now, this is different than a parent sending a kid up to their room. This is having a child in a jail cell."

The suit claims the "JJC staff used solitary confinement as a catchall -- a place to warehouse children with mental illness."

It's asking for an injunction to stop the practice.

“You can't use segregation or isolation as a form of punishment," Rice said.

The suit asks for compensatory and punitive damages. It also claims the J.J.C. lacks the staffing and funding necessary for children with special needs.

The County Council and Commissioners are also listed as defendants in the suit. Calls to the county attorney and the J.J.C. were not returned

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