TRENTON, New Jersey — New Jersey's American Civil Liberties Union and other groups met with state officials Monday to push for strict limits on the use of solitary confinement of juveniles held in state custody.
They told representatives from the Attorney General's office and the Juvenile Justice Commission that the young offenders have complained to them about being sent to isolation and left without food or clothes for days.
Currently, juveniles can be isolated for up to five days at a time and a total of 10 days per month as punishment for bad behavior in the detention center. But some claim they were left much longer and for minor infractions.
"Cursing or obscene language can get you four hours or four days," Sandra Simkins, a clinical professor with Rutgers University law school said. "It seems to depend on the guard."
Members of the groups said research shows the practice is harmful to children and that solitary confinement has been linked to problems from hallucinations to depression and irrational anger.
Sharon Lauchaire, a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Justice Commission, said there are a number of reasons why juveniles are restricted to their rooms, including discipline, medical reasons or for their own protection.
She said the agency regularly monitors and adjusts its policies and practices "to ensure that the commission is using the best methodology to promote the education, advancement and rehabilitation of the juveniles for which it is responsible."
Lauchaire said the meeting Monday was an opportunity "to discuss strategies for achieving our goal of ensuring the safety and welfare of the Commission's residents."
The groups want isolation to be used only when major offenses occur and when used, to have a four- to six-hour limit. They say there are other ways to discipline rule-breakers such as taking away privileges, which should be used before considering isolation.
The state now allows staff to take away TV, radio and phone privileges, assign extra work, and other measures.
The groups also said juveniles need better legal representation and urged for stronger oversight on placing them in solitary confinement.
"There are no eyes and ears on this process, whatsoever," said Craig Levine, an attorney for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.