Momentum is building around the issue of solitary confinement, and each year brings more dedicated advocates to the table. With the majority of people in solitary confinement held in state facilities, activists have organized in many states to demand state-level reforms to reduce the use of solitary confinement. Very few states, however, have statewide campaigns dedicated to keeping kids out of solitary confinement. The Children’s Law Center (CLC) kicked off its Stop Solitary for Ohio’s Youth campaign last April, and now joins anti-solitary confinement activists across the country to promote the campaign through actions and events on the 23rd of each month.
CLC partnered with the Ohio Juvenile Justice Alliance to launch these events as part of the Together to End Solitary initiative. For the first event, CLC created a graphic that campaign endorsers were asked to share through social media on December 23rd. The image was a gentle reminder to all of us on the outside to take a moment during the holiday season to consider the many children who would spend their holidays like they do most days—completely alone.
The soft launch in December was the first step toward regular 23rd actions, and organizers at CLC have already coordinated with schools, organizations, and advocates across the state to plan more actions in 2016. For example, in January, the Family and Youth Law Center (FYLC) along with a student group at Capital University Law School will lead an effort to inform students, faculty and staff about the harms of solitary confinement. Attendees will be invited to sign the campaign’s petition asking the Governor to take action to end the use of solitary confinement on children in all court-ordered out-of-home placements. To maximize the impact of the event, petition signors will be asked to create a short video talking about why they are endorsing the campaign and why Ohio should stop using seclusion on kids. These videos will be used to create digital material for social media.
On February 23rd, the FYLC and the American Constitution Society - Columbus Lawyers Chapter will host a continuing legal education program for attorneys and other advocates. For this program, CLC will partner with the ACLU of Ohio and Disability Rights Ohio to discuss the constitutional issues surrounding solitary confinement for both adults and kids.
Future events for the spring are still in the works, but CLC hopes to have law schools in the Cleveland area host campaign-related 23rd events.
You might notice a trend in these planned events, and that’s no accident. The events are legal in nature because the law is where CLC shines. CLC’s mission is to provide legal advocacy for children, and through that work the organization has developed strong skills, knowledge, and connections in the legal field.
Now, CLC uses their unique strengths to advocate for children in solitary confinement – a key strategy to any successful campaign. Their prior successes have given CLC a good reputation and a broad network of allies, which they use to their advantage. Ohio’s Stop Solitary campaign has at least 25 national and state-specific organizational endorsers, and CLC maintains relationships with dozens of other organizations in the state.
Partnerships like these help CLC organize and promote events, and encourage others to join in campaigning for an end to solitary confinement for youth. Last year, for example, organizers at CLC worked with Fusion Network, a subsidiary of Disney, to provide information about Ohio’s juvenile justice system. As a result, CLC’s youth clients are featured prominently in Fusion’s recently released documentary Prison Kids. With the assistance of the Ohio State Bar Association, the documentary is being screened at law schools across the state, often coupled with panel discussions about juvenile justice, including the issue of solitary confinement, in Ohio.
CLC also employs a strategic mix of new and existing tools. The group has a regular radio talk show in which they discuss issues around juvenile justice. They have used the show, which has been on the air for over 5 years, as a platform to discuss their campaign to end solitary confinement for youth. They’ve also created a new fact sheet on solitary confinement with both national and state-level data.
Lastly, CLC builds on the knowledge they’ve gained through years of litigation. CLC has already made a huge impact on solitary confinement in Ohio through their lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS). In 2014, DYS consented to reduce and ultimately to eliminate its use of solitary confinement on kids in state juvenile correctional facilities. This stemmed from an agreement entered into in 2008 after a federal class action was filed against the State of Ohio. A final push in the last two years of the litigation, which ended in December of 2015, accomplished this in remarkable fashion. Even while they celebrate this victory, CLC continues to fight for the many youths who will not benefit from it – those in adult prisons and jails, detention centers, and residential treatment facilities.
The Children’s Law Center’s intentional, strategic approach and smart use of existing resources and connections is a great demonstration for anyone interested in fighting for solitary reform in their state. To follow their accomplishments, check out their website and follow #stopsolitaryOHyouth on social media.