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Getting Detained Youth Out of Isolation and into Collaboration

This week’s episode of This American Life is called “Not It.” In this episode, reporters relay three true stories in which instead of solving a problem in the community, officials simply shuttled that problem off to someone else. While the specific stories aren’t directly relevant to youth with challenging behaviors, as I listened I couldn’t help thinking of this report/toolkit that was released last week from the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators (CJCA), a national organization focused on improving juvenile correctional services so youth can be successful when they return to the community. This toolkit was created to provide very concrete strategies that corrections officials and staff can use to reduce the use of isolation in their facilities.

The disturbing fact is that in many correctional facilities, instead of being used as a last resort to protect youth, isolation is often used as part of a behavior management plan. But isolation does nothing to improve behavior, and does not teach the skills that youth need to be successful once released; in many cases it can exacerbate the negative dynamic between adults and youth. Furthermore, youth with histories of abuse or neglect can be triggered by isolation practices, such that behavior and other symptoms deteriorate rather than improve as a result of this practice. Over-using isolation is just one more example of officials “shuttling off” problems to someone else rather than putting in efforts to fix the underlying problem. Holding a detained child in isolation whenever challenging behavior arises means that when that child is released back into the community, the child’s behavior and skills deficits become the problem of a school, a family, a mental health provider, and a community. And high re-offense/recidivism rates tell the rest of the story.

As this report says, “Research has made clear that isolating youths for long periods of time or as a consequence for negative behavior undermines the rehabilitative goals of youth corrections.”

At Think:Kids, we are proud that Collaborative Problem Solving was named in this toolkit as a strategy for reducing isolation and returning to the goal of rehabilitation in youth corrections. If you work in corrections, or if you work closely with others in corrections, please use and share this toolkit. Our youth are depending on you.

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