On April 28, 2016, ACLU-TN joined a lawsuit challenging the use of extended solitary confinement for juveniles, particularly for pretrial detainees and children who suffer from mental illness. The federal lawsuit was filed on April 25, 2016 by ACLU-TN cooperating attorneys Mark Downton and Wesley Clark on behalf of a 15-year-old pretrial detainee who was held in solitary confinement for several days at the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Facility — a practice which can be psychologically shattering for young people.
The lawsuit was filed after the detention facility ordered that the boy be held in isolation in a concrete cell for 23 hours a day, with only one hour of recreation or leisure time. For the first two days he was denied access to books, magazines, music, and other educational or recreational materials. The boy had been placed in solitary confinement because he had allegedly disrupted a classroom, “hollered,” “rapped,” and “flashed gang symbols.” The boy was never alleged to be a danger to himself or others.
ACLU-TN seeks to stop the use of solitary confinement for punitive or disciplinary reasons permanently both for the boy in this case as well as for other juveniles in pretrial detention or who suffer from mental illness. To that end, the lawsuit was amended to create a class action, seeking to ban the use of solitary confinement to punish children who are in the state’s custody or held in county detention facilities licensed by the state. On February 17, 2017, the court granted our motion with regard to Rutherford County, certifying the class.
On February 9, 2017, ACLU-TN asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction against Rutherford County to stop the use of punitive solitary confinement while the case is pending. The court granted the motion on March 22, 2017, finding that “solitary confinement of juveniles in government custody for punitive or disciplinary reasons, especially for extended periods of time and especially for youth who may suffer from mental illness, violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibitions against the inhuman treatment of detainees.”
The parties have now agreed to settle the case. Because this is a class action, any settlement requires notice to the public and the court’s approval after a fairness hearing is held. The agreement was presented to the court in March 2019, and the court has issued a preliminary approval of the settlement agreement. The lawsuit asked the court for injunctive relief and does not cover individual damages suffered by any individual juvenile. The fairness hearing on the settlement agreement has been set for July 19, 2019 at 1:00. Links to copies of the settlement agreement, the notice of settlement agreement, and the court’s order granting preliminary approval of the settlement agreement can be found below.
ACLU-TN COOPERATING ATTORNEYS:
Mark Downton and Wesley Clark of Downton Clark, PLLC
John Doe, By and through his Mother Sharieka Frazier
Department of Children’s Services; Bonnie Hommrich, Commissioner of Department of Children’s Services; Rutherford County, Tennessee; Lynn Duke, Director of Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Facility; Angela Istvanditsch, Officer with Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Facility