Seven states have banned solitary confinement for juveniles in state prison systems, and a North Florida Democrat would like the Sunshine State to become the eighth.
State Sen. Bill Montford this week reintroduced a proposal that says prisoners younger than 19 may be held in solitary confinement only in an emergency or if they need to be isolated for medical reasons.
A similar proposal by Montford during the Spring 2019 legislative session failed in committee.
Two similar bills already have been filed for the 2020 session – in the Senate by South Florida Democrat Perry Thurston, and in the House by Hillsborough County Democrat Fentrice Driskell.
Last month, three civil rights group filed a federal class action against the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and its secretary, Simone Marstiller, seeking to end use of solitary confinement in juvenile detention facilities.
That lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida Legal Services, and the Florida Justice Institute, challenges the department’s policy in 21 state-operated secure detention facilities of isolating children in solitary confinement for “minor misbehavior” and failure to provide them access to school services, recreation, or appropriate mental health services.
The suit claims that, according to department statistics, during the 2017-18 fiscal year 14,010 juveniles were placed into secure detention. Approximately 5,314 were 15 years old or younger. The average length of stay was 14 days.
President Trump signed the First Step Act in January, which included a ban on solitary confinement for youth in federal prisons. That put into statute what former President Obama had already called for when he banned the practice via an executive order in 2016.