Federal Criminal Justice Reform Bill – The First Step Act – Prohibits the Use of Solitary Confinement for Discipline, Punishment, or Retaliation for Juvenile Offenders

The House of Representatives introduced “The First Step Act” aimed at reducing the recidivism of federal prisoners and other criminal justice reforms. The Act was originally passed in the House and was recently passed in the Senate on December 18, 2018. On December 21, 2018, President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act into law.

The First Step Act adds Section 5043 to Chapter 403 of Title 18 to the United States Code. This newly added Section prohibits the use of room confinement at a juvenile facility for “discipline, retaliation, or any reason other than as a temporary response to a covered juvenile’s behavior that poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm to any individual, including the covered juvenile.” According to this Section, “room confinement” is defined as the involuntary placement of a covered juvenile alone in a cell, room, or other area for any reason.

According to this new legislation, the following juveniles are protected under this new Section: juveniles being proceeded against under this chapter for an alleged act of juvenile delinquency; juveniles adjudicated delinquent under Chapter 403; or juveniles being proceeded against as an adult in a district court of the United States for an alleged criminal offense.

For juveniles that pose a risk of harm, before a staff member may place a juvenile in room confinement, they must attempt to use less restrictive techniques to address the behavior. If less restrictive techniques fail, staff members are required to explain to the juvenile why he or she is being placed in room confinement and that they will be released immediately if they regain self-control or at the expiration of the allowed time period.

Section 5043 clearly delineates the maximum amount of time a juvenile is permitted to be placed in room confinement when the juvenile is posing a risk of harm and is unable to sufficiently gain control. According to this Section, if the juvenile poses a serious risk of immediate physical harm to others the longest period he or she can be held in room confinement is 3 hours. If the juvenile only poses a serious and immediate risk of harm to himself or herself the longest period he or she can be confined is 30 minutes. If, after the expiration of these periods, the juvenile continues to pose a risk of harm, the juvenile should be transferred to an appropriate facility to address the needs of the juvenile.

This legislation appears to be addressing the current research and findings on the negative impact periods of solitary confinement can have on offenders, especially juveniles.

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