BY LANCE LOPEZ, SR.
SPECIAL TO NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
Recent news articles and outcries by advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) arguing for the reduction in solitary confinement for juvenile inmates in the State of New Jersey, are missing the mark in regards to the treatment of these offenders and the reality of the situation facing correction officers at these facilities.
“Advocacy groups and the general public need to be fully informed about the inmates under the care of the Juvenile Justice Commission, (JJC), and not have their perceptions defined by what they see in movies and television,” said Lance Lopez, Sr. President of PBA Local 105. “The words solitary confinement paint a picture of what we see in movies and on television shows like LOCK-UP, of being completely alone in dimly lit cells with no communication to the outside; with only meals being delivered a couple times a day.”
“Advocacy groups also should not mischaracterize these inmates as children, giving the public the misconception these inmates are grade school children. The mass majority of juvenile inmates are 16-21. Most have the stature and strength of grown men and women. Many already have children of their own, are associated with gangs and unfortunately lost all innocence long before beginning their time in the system.”
This is why PBA Local 105 is calling for the term “restricted engagement” to be used in lieu of solitary confinement. The term better reflects exactly what kind of treatment these inmates are receiving and the fact that they are not locked in a cell with no light, visitors or rights of any kind but rather restricted to their room for five days.
Five days room restriction is reserved for extreme negative and violent behavior. The hearing officer seldom hands out the maximum room restriction penalty. By removing room restriction other inmates and staff are subject to harm by these violent juveniles. State facilities like Johnstone Campus, (JMSF) and New Jersey Training School for Boys (The Burg) are the very last stops for these troubled teens. This means they have exhausted all probation and programs or they have committed such heinous crimes that there is nowhere else to place them.
Advocacy groups have petitioned the JJC seeking changes in Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) regulations that allow the unlimited and poorly regulated solitary confinement of juveniles without sufficient due process protections. According to PBA Local 105, this entire statement is false. The JJC regulates the use of room restriction and the juveniles receive a hearing process and are allowed to appeal the decision. Room restriction is not unlimited. A juvenile cannot serve any more than five days room restriction. They must be out of room restriction for a minimum of two days before being placed back in room restriction for another infraction. The Maximum amount of days served is 10 every 30 days.
The ACLU admitted in a 30 page petition to the NJ State JJC and Attorney General that “While there are no studies that “look specifically at the effects of prolonged solitary confinement on adolescents,” their petition is solely based on the opinions and theories of doctors and advocates.
The ACLU in their 30-day petition also cites studies from the 1800 and 1900’s. We are now in 2013. There is no beating and sexual abuse by staff at the JJC. There are cameras everywhere which protects the inmates and staff from abuse and allegations. The most danger that juvenile inmates have to fear is from each other.
Removing room restriction will take away the consequences to negative behavior. If an inmate brutally attacks an officer on his housing unit, is it a fair punishment to send them to bed early for the night and then have them bragging about what they did the next day? Juveniles ONLY receive room restriction when they purposely and defiantly violate a serious rule. They are quite aware of the consequences to follow.
Restricted engagement works. The truth of the matter is it keeps violent juveniles away from the inmate population as they ponder the behavior that placed them in this position. While they are under “restricted engagement” they can meet daily with clergy for as long as they want to stay; are provided reading materials; have face-to-face contact with guards every 15 minutes; nurses, teaching assistants and mental health staff; receive three meals and snacks and have recreation for one hour outside or indoors if there is inclement weather. Each cell also has a window. As you can see, the only thing “solitary” in this approach is giving the inmate time to themselves to reflect on their behavior and hopefully return to the full inmate population as better individuals, accountable for their actions.