“Protecting the rights of children who are detained is imperative to maintaining the integrity of our state’s values,” Ta’Mara Hill told the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee Thursday.
Unfortunately, the policy officer for the Center for Victims of Torture said the state’s juvenile detention facilities are failing to adequately protect the children in their care.
She spoke Thursday in support of a bill that was amended and laid over. It would address two “unconscionable practices” currently happening in juvenile detention facilities: unnecessary strip searches of children as young as 10 years old by untrained staff and using segregation to discipline children for up to 23 straight hours.
Sponsored by Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), HF1233 would prohibit staff from performing juvenile strip searches in most situations and from using segregation as punishment. Exceptions would be allowed for strip searches under very strict conditions, including credible evidence that contraband is being smuggled and other search techniques and technologies were ineffective, and that searches be performed by a health care professional or a person “who has received training on trauma-informed search techniques.”
Children and youth do not experience strip searches in the same way with many equating the trauma and humiliation of a strip-search to sexual and physical abuse, according to written testimony from Violence Free Minnesota. “Children who have been victim to other forms of violence are retraumatized when the right to their own bodily autonomy is taken away.”
The bill would not prohibit staff to segregate children in solitary rooms, but strict restrictions would be in place.
“There are going to be circumstances where it’s necessary for a young person to be isolated for their own safety or the safety of others,” Pinto said. “But we want to make sure that there are strict safeguards around that and we do not want to have that happen for the purpose of discipline.”
“Locking children in cells to punish them is torture, plain and simple,” said Malaika Eban, interim executive director at the Legal Rights Center.
She said children sent by court order to juvenile detention centers are “some of the most vulnerable members of our state” and they need specific services and treatments, not re-traumatization. “It’s counterproductive to the rehabilitative goals of the juvenile justice system and our correctional institutions. And yet the practice is rampant.”
Workers in juvenile justice facilities said they use detention and segregation to keep children and their workplace safe.
“We are concerned that the complete elimination of disciplinary room time without a safe and viable alternative could lead to increased assaults, unsafe situations, and further trauma for the youth we serve,” said Matt Bauer, superintendent of the Dakota County Juvenile Services Center.