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Kings County Criminal Bar Association praises judge’s order to stop use of solitary confinement on children

February 24, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Michael Cibella. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese
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In what is being hailed as a landmark case, a U.S. District Court judge issued an order to have the Justice Center jail in Syracuse immediately stop putting children in solitary confinement as it violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The move was immediately praised by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), who filed the lawsuit, and locally by the Kings County Criminal Bar Association (KCCBA).

“This is a great decision for juvenile justice rights and recognizes that the justice system cannot treat 16- and 17-year-old children the same as adults,” KCCBA President Michael Cibella said. “Hopefully, the state will take notice and also soon pass legislation so that these same-aged children in New York are never even tried as adults, as they are now.”

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“Solitary confinement for children is torture and causes lifelong damage,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director at the NYCLU. “We are thrilled the children at the Justice Center will be removed from solitary for their safety and well-being.”

The NYCLU and the Legal Services of Central New York filed the lawsuit against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, and Judge David Hurd granted the preliminary injunction in the case that keeps 16- and 17-year-olds out of solitary.

The NYCLU charged that many of the children in solitary were mentally ill and were in near-complete isolation for up to months at a time. It also charged that the children at the Justice Center were sexually harassed by adults, housed in disgusting conditions and denied education. They said that kids were regularly being punished with solitary for minor offenses like speaking loudly or wearing the wrong shoes.

“Putting children in solitary is a grave injustice,” said Phil Desgranges, staff attorney at the NYCLU and lead counsel on the case. “This decision makes clear that locking children in isolation endangers their mental health and is an unacceptable practice.”

“We are ecstatic with Judge Hurd’s decision which will stop this torturous practice for the duration of our lawsuit,” said Josh Cotter, co-counsel on the case and a staff attorney at Legal Services of Central New York. “It is our hope that the Sheriff’s Office and school district will now work with us to develop a long-term solution to this problem.”

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