Missouri regulates the use of seclusion rooms and restraints … finally!

A “blue room” seclusion room in Missouri

American education remains haunted by inhumane treatment of children, especially those living with disabilities. Yesterday, Saturday, August 28, a new law went into effect in Missouri regulating and, in some instances, curtailing the use of seclusion rooms and physical restraints in all public, private and charter schools in the state. This is a welcome move, won by long hard struggle of children, parents, allies, advocates. Why is it so difficult to abandon practices that are clearly harmful and inhumane?

In May 2009, the Missouri state legislature passed a law giving school districts two years in which to devise written policies governing the use of seclusion rooms. Before that, there were no policies, only the practice of solitary confinement of school children without a single written guideline or rule. Nothing came of that. Nothing happened as a result of this non-compliance.

Eleven years later, in January 2020, 11-year-old Ryphath Knopp stood before a committee of the Missouri state legislature and described being put into solitary confinement in the Columbia, Missouri, school system. Knopp told the legislators he lives with autism, anxiety, and depression. He described beings placed in a small padded room “almost all day, every day” until his parents took him out of school and homeschooled him. Knopp called seclusion rooms “an adapted version of solitary confinement, which was a form of torture, may I remind you.”

Mothers of other children in the Columbia school district recounted similar experiences. Shawan Daniels described the room her fourth-grade child was locked into: “These rooms didn’t have vents in them, water, or anything.” Another mother said the isolation had caused her son emotional trauma, asthma attacks, and head injuries. Both used the same phrase to describe Columbia schools’ treatment of their children: being “thrown into a box.” At that point, Missouri had no rules and no oversight over the use of restraint or seclusion in its schools.

In March 2020, Missouri legislators passed House Bill (HB 1568) that would establish a ban on seclusion and restraint rooms “except in cases where there is imminent danger to the student or others”. Who decides the exception? No guidelines were provided, and besides, it didn’t really matter. Apart from completely discretionary guidelines, Missouri still had neither rules nor oversight concerning the use of restraint or seclusion in schools.

All that changed, for the better, yesterday. In its latest session, the Missouri legislature passed House Bill 432, which regulates and codifies the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Missouri now has actual guidelines for the use, and not, of restraint and seclusion rooms. The guidelines include rules on documentation of any use of seclusion or restraint, annual uniform training of faculty and staff concerning the use of seclusion or restraint, and new protection for whistleblowers.

Ryphath Knopp attended school in Columbus, Missouri. Frankie Bono attended school in St. Charles, Missouri. According to his mother, “My son was locked in a closet. He didn’t have the skills and ability to appropriately communicate what was really happening at school. We were driving in the car recently and a song came on the radio, and he just started sobbing. That was a song that had been playing in the room, one of the times they had tackled him, held his face against the cold floor, grabbed him by the hair and dragged him into the seclusion room.” Frankie called it “the blue room”.

According to the most recent federal data, in school year 2017 – 2018, 50.9 million students were enrolled in public schools. 101,990 were subjected to physical or mechanical constraint or seclusion. 27,538 were subjected to seclusion. In that school year, 13% of the students enrolled were classified as living with disabilities. Of those subjected to physical restraint, 80% were living with disabilities. Of those subjected to mechanical constraint, 41% were living with disabilities. Of those subjected to seclusion, 77% were students living with disabilities.

This is a war against children, and exactly what crime have these children committed? Why do we routinely send children into solitary confinement? What are we teaching children, all the children in all the schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it “seclusion” and “restraint”? How many more children must suffer the “blue rooms” of torture? Perhaps Missouri will shed a light on that cold floor.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune / ProPublica)

American school seclusion rooms continue to form a landscape of atrocity

Just another seclusion room somewhere in the United States

On Wednesday, June 2, Senators Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, and Patty Murray, of Washington State, will introduce, or more precisely re-introduce, the Keeping All Students Safe Act, “To prohibit and prevent seclusion, mechanical restraint, chemical restraint, and dangerous restraints that restrict breathing, and to prevent and reduce the use of physical restraint in schools, and for other purposes.” In 2009, the Government Accounting Office released a major study documenting the severe harm rendered by seclusion rooms in schools, especially for students living with disabilities. In the same year, National Disability Rights Network released a major studySchool is not supposed to hurt: Investigative Report on Abusive Restraint and Seclusion in Schools. Since 2009, versions of the Keeping All Students Safe Act have been introduced, all to no avail.  And so here we are: “There are no federal laws governing how seclusion and restraints can be used in schools, and there are no sweeping federal laws with specific guidelines for police use of force on children in general.” Loaded with evidence and good intention … and completely stalled in place for twelve years and counting. What is the U.S. investment in torturing and damaging children, and in particular children living with disability? Why is the United States so committed to an endless war on children living with disabilities?

Three years ago, the U.S. Department of Education released data that showed that students living with disabilities constituted 12% of all students enrolled. 12 percent. That very small sector of students living with disabilities constituted 71% of all students restrained and 66% of all students “secluded.” This year, the most update study shows that students living with disabilities make up 13% of all students enrolled and constitute 80% of those physically restrained, 41% of those `mechanically’ restrained, and 77% of students subjected to seclusion: “Physical restraint is a personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move his or her torso, arms, legs, or head freely. Mechanical restraint is the use of any device or equipment to restrict a student’s freedom of movement. Seclusion is the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving.” These are the numbers and key words of education for children in the United States. 

While restraint and seclusion directly assault children living with disabilities, it impairs all those children who are forced to stand as helpless, and themselves restrained, witnesses. Why is there no federal law, why is there no national will to end this torture of the innocents? Why is this left to the discretion of individual states, counties and cities? Three years ago, almost to the day, we asked, “What crime have these children committed? What is their terrible sin? Why do we continue to send these children into solitary confinement? Why do we continue to torture those who are most vulnerable? When will we stop this practice? What do you think we’re teaching children, all the children in all the schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it `seclusion’ and `restraint’?” Why has there been no answer? American school seclusion rooms continue to form a landscape of atrocity. Where is the outrage? Where is the action?

An eleven-year-old describes how it feels to be in class (left) and how it feels to be in seclusion (right)

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo, Image Credit: ProPublica)

Who, under torture, is not a child?

I find myself increasingly upset by the emphasis on children in the discussion of current human rights abuses. Though in many cases, it can be more damaging for children to be subject to them, the emphasis needs to be on the nature of the crimes, not the vulnerability of the subjects. Had Epstein lured 30- or 60-year-olds with promises of money and safety in order to rape and traffic them, he would still be committing crimes against humanity. Adults and the elderly are also victims of rape and trafficking. As Epstein’s incarceration records show, anyone can be lured if not by money, then by fear. All humans are vulnerable: the focus needs to remain on traumatizing and unacceptable acts, rather than on the special vulnerabilities of the victims. To continue as such is to run and play ‘catch up’ to the abuser’s discourse; it’s to piecemeal justice.

Adults being held at the border in places far exceeding maximum capacity, without being able to wash, being deprived of adequate nutrition or being recipients of threats and other violence, are atrocities that are happening as I write this. While it’s true that the impacts to children may be more severe, no human can withstand this kind of treatment. 

Though it is a horrific crime to separate children, the focus on them is increasingly being steered into a Christian and Republican framework. With pictures of girl children and innocent victims, the Handmaid’s Tale reality continues to write the rules. Fighting on the platform of the Innocent Victim will not yield a more equally participatory reality. Rather it is a response to crisis that will have the effect of further entrenching patriarchy, allowing its rules and domination to deepen. More than its predecessor, the current administration manipulates by using crisis as the place where populations run back to an illusory safety of ancient ideas about power and order: panic often hosts an appeal to authority and traditions. How can there be an overcoming of these brutal chapters if such defaults are not rejected?

The emphasis on children also demonizes people who are legitimately afraid for their own fates and/or lives by consistently suggesting that the most valid approach to fighting is to fight for others. Women especially are called selfish when we advocate for ourselves. 

There needs to be a sacred universal and thorough law that shields everyone at all times against the infliction of trauma and violently imposed vulnerability. It needs to be bigger, more sacred and more dimensional than human rights. Perhaps it should run deeper than law, be a coda or a primary ethic, at the foundation of human learning that is taught from the beginning of life, present in film, in search functions, apps, music. For no one is exempt from fragility. 

While it’s true that fighting for children can also be seen as fighting for the most urgent of cases, and maybe, seemingly, the most obvious ones to prosecute in the current State, the risk of losing a concept of universal requirements needs to be remembered at all times. And maybe, it also needs to be remembered, that the cruel power that writes and enforces policies of ‘security’ doesn’t now and mostly never has cared about children any more than adults except as bodies for mass experimentation and other forms of human capital. This is not new or exceptional: the State’s rhetoric has always been propaganda. 

So whose game is being played when the idea of ‘children’ is over represented as a quick and rough appeal to sentimentality? What is succeeding when children are scripted into narratives of innocence to mobilize emotions and appeal to the libidinous concept of predator and prey?

(Photo Credit: The New Yorker / Jose Luis Gonzalez / Reuters)

England’s seclusion rooms form a landscape of atrocity and shame

In 2017, New Zealand banned schoolhouse seclusion rooms. On Friday, a report came out indicating that across England primary and secondary schools are routinely using “seclusion rooms”. The report suggested that both the scale and frequency of use is much higher than expected: “Many schools use them as part of an escalating set of disciplinary measures. Our research found over two-thirds of the country’s largest academy trusts have schools that use some form of isolation, although with varying labels from `inclusion units’ and `consequence booths’ to `time-out spaces’ and `calm rooms’.” The isolation cells are used from the first year. Primary school students can stay in for a day at a time; secondary school students can stay in for five consecutive days. The torture of solitary confinement clothed in the language of inclusion, consequence, time-out and calm is the lesson children across England – and Canada and the United States and beyond – are learning in an age of expanding and intensifying zero tolerance. While A Critique of Pure Tolerance once inspired a generation of activists to action, today we need A Critique of Zero Tolerance. We need it, and, even more, our children and grandchildren need it … now.

In August, a report noted that exclusion, or out-of-school suspension, was rampant in secondary schools across England. 45 schools suspended at least 20% of their students, with some schools topping 40%. In September, a follow up report noted the rampant use of isolation booths, variously referred to as “consequences rooms” or “internal exclusion.” The line from “internal exclusion” to alienation to abnegation to death-in-life to lifelong trauma is direct.

August, September, October, another month, another discovery … of a phenomenon taking place all over the country. Founded in 2013, the TBAP Multi-Academy Trust “supports learners who are experiencing difficulty with or have been excluded from mainstream education.” The people at TBAP Multi-Academy Trust know that seclusion rooms don’t work and, equally important, are bad for all children and all learners. Last year, TBAP Multi-Academy Trust Chairman of the Board Paul Dix wrote, “A room with isolation booths is the bleakest sign of an institution giving up. It shouts ‘we don’t know what to do’ at children who often don’t know what they’ve done wrong. Look around inside any isolation room where children are separated for long periods of time from the rest of the school, and I would lay good money that more than 80% of the children in there have additional needs. Some will have a diagnosed special educational need or disability, others will be struggling with hidden that are all too obvious to those who work with them every day: trauma, anxiety, attachment, grief, or plain old-fashioned neglect. The sins of the adult world are soaked up by a minority of children. Then we stick them in a booth and call it education. The booths are a shame on all of us, not the children who are forced to sit in them.”

How many more times must we “discover” that throwing children into seclusion rooms, no matter what they’re called, is wrong? Why do we need to discuss whether the rooms “work” or are too “costly”? What about the cost to children’s lives? What about the cost, as well, to the very concept of education? What does a child learn when exclusion is called inclusion, terror is called calm, and a war on children is called education? We should all be ashamed. Are we?

(Photo Credit: Cambridgeshire Live)

Australia, England, the United States build a global place of torture for migrant children: Tear it down!

Recently the war on children intensified to formally include torture. Australia kidnapped a 17-year-old boy clearly at risk of suicide and dumped him and his mother in Nauru. England faces a law suit for its “catastrophic failure” when it dumped a 16-year-old Vietnamese survivor of labor trafficking into immigration detention, Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre, where he was sexually assaulted. There was no catastrophic failure. There was hostile environment hatred and torture. This week, the United States announced that it would separate immigrant asylum seeking parents and children at the border. According to reports today, the government plans on sending the children to military bases, mostly in Texas. As two psychologists noted today, “The practice of separating families at the border is morally reprehensible and — based on the science — goes against international and U.S. law, because the suffering it inflicts constitutes torture of children.” One shouldn’t need a psychologist to know that the detention of children is bad for them. One shouldn’t need a psychologist or a pediatrician. One need only be human.

Fatemah and her 17-year-old son, Hamid, have been on Nauru for more than five years. Fatemah needs critical heart surgery. She has been waiting 18 months for the surgery. She refused to leave her son behind. Finally, two months ago, both were transferred to Taiwan. While in Taiwan, Hamid was examined. He suffers severe mental illness “caused and exacerbated by his detention.” Against all doctors’ advice, on Tuesday, before sunrise, Fatemah and Hamid were returned to Nauru.

Fatemah described the situation: “I’m a single mother of a 17 year old son. For 17 years I have been both mother and father to him. I fled from violations and insecurity caused by the Iranian government, but I never imagined that me and my son’s spirt would be wounded so deeply at a place of torture made by the Australian government … Look at what the Australian government has done to us! My son says to me, `Let’s attempt suicide together’ … He believes the only way to freedom is in death. I have sympathy for all the mothers and their children who live in Nauru. We are preyed on and our lives are subjected to cruelty … I don’t know what to say about the way the Australian government has treated us. I have been officially accepted as a refugee but still live in a tent. If I was imprisoned as a criminal in a third world country, that government would provide me with basic facilities … I only have these questions for you. Are you treating Australian murderers, rapists and smugglers the way you treat us? Have you kept them in 50 degree heat in a tent where water is dripping from the roof? … How many more people will be sacrificed before the Australian government realises the way it treats us is a crime?”

In England, in 2017, 44 children were detained. Of the 44, 20 were 11 or younger. Of the 44 children, 11 were deported: “The other 33 were put through the ordeal of imprisonment without any `departure’ at the end of it.” That’s the current overall situation. Last week, the story of H, a Vietnamese youth, emerged. At the age of 16, H was trafficked to work on a cannabis farm, in England. He was abused, violated, deeply hurt. Finally he was arrested, charged, convicted, sent to a young offenders’ institution and then on to Morton Hall, where, in 2016, he was sexually assaulted by his cell mate. The staff at Morton Hall did nothing to assist or support H, nor did they investigate. Only when attorneys began calling, recently, did Morton Hall begin to begin an internal inquiry.

H explains his situation: “My time in immigration detention was awful. After this incident, I was really paranoid that other detainees would hurt me all of the time. I felt scared all the time and I found it very difficult to sleep or eat. Morton Hall staff do not protect the detainees. Although terrible things have happened to me in the past, the effect of immigration detention made this even worse.”

This week, the United States announced it would intensify and increase the separation of immigrant children and parents. The government claims that, since October 1,  700 or so children were separated from their parents. Recently, the numbers have risen, and the State promises a steep increase. Mirian, 29 years old, and her 18-month-old child fled violence in Honduras. She reached the border, hoping for asylum, and her 18-month-old baby was taken away: “I had no idea that I would be separated from my child for seeking help. I am so anxious to be reunited with him.”

This is our world: a place of torture where nation-States take children from their parents and dump both in separate hell holes, all in the name of national integrity. The policies are cruel and criminal. When will we stop the torture of the innocents? Who will pay for the damage done to their psyches and souls? How many more will be sacrificed?

 

(Photo Credit: New York Times / Hope Hall / ACLU)

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”

A cell at Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre

Human Rights Watch released a report today, I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished: Abuse and Neglect of Prisoners with Disabilities in Australia, that describes the horror of prison for those living with disabilities. Prisoners living with disabilities are tortured in every way possible, from extended and extensive use of solitary confinement to sexual violence to physical and psychological torture to … The list is endless. One prisoner spent 19 years in solitary confinement. Prison-carers provide care for prisoners with high support needs. In one prison, six of the eight prison-carers are convicted sex offenders. At the center of this garden of earthly evil are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. At the center of that center are Aboriginal and Torres Islander Strait women: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population”. None of this is new.

HRW researchers reached women at Bandyup Women’s Prison, in West Swan, Western Australia, and Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre, in Wacol, Brisbane, Queensland. Both are infamous for chronic overcrowding and the occasional death in custody. Today’s report largely reiterates earlier findings. The hyper-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait women is “integrally linked to the social and economic disadvantages that result from years of structural discrimination.”

Many people with disabilities that we interviewed, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disabilities, had experienced family and sexual violence multiple times in their lives. Facing sexual, physical, and verbal violence in prison, particularly from staff, perpetuates this cycle of violence and creates distrust between staff and prisoners. One woman with a disability told Human Rights Watch: “The officers [use] intimidation tactics. Especially for us girls, that just reminds us of our domestic violence back home, it scares us. If you want to get through to us, they should be nice to us.” Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have high rates of psychosocial disabilities, intellectual disability, and trauma: “About 73 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and 86 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison have a diagnosed mental health condition …. Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Queensland prisons, 73 percent of male and 86 percent of female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners had a diagnosed psychosocial disability”.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait women have more contact with police, generally, and the contact starts at a younger age. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disabilities “experience higher rates of poverty, homelessness, domestic and sexual violence, and abuse than non-indigenous peers and peers without disabilities.”

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population, and 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous peers.”

None of this is new. These very issues came up in major reports published in  2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and last year. It’s a new year, and so we have another study that reports that Australia, like the United States, has invested a great deal in intensifying the vulnerability of the most vulnerable, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. The more vulnerable women become, the more they are told to shoulder responsibility, individually and as a group, for all the wrongs that have been inflicted upon them, body and soul. Women suffer repeated trauma, and it’s their fault. Prisons are cruel and ineffective, especially for women, and that’s just fine. Mass incarceration is destroying indigenous women and families, and that’s just fine. Everything is fine. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are the fastest growing prison population.

 

(Photo Credit: ABC)

New Zealand declares seclusion rooms are unreasonable and oppressive

The seclusion room door

In December 2017, New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman ruled that a school should pay $3000 and issue a formal apology to the family of an 11-year-old autistic child who was put in a “seclusion room” 13 times in nine days. The seclusion room was a dark cell, without windows or light. The treatment of the child came to his parents’ attention, and then to that of the public, when a behavior therapist came to the school, and found the child alone, unmonitored, and crying for help. That was in October 2016. Soon after, it was “discovered” that the use of seclusion rooms was fairly common in so-called special schools across New Zealand. In November 2016, the Education Minister proposed banning the use of seclusion rooms in schools. That became law in early 2017.  At the end of 2017, New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman declared the school had acted “unreasonably and oppressively”. Later the Ombudsman explained, “I just think we’ve got to be careful and sensitive about those times when the going gets tough and when we need to, in schools, manage difficult, challenging behaviour like this. This report of ours is a reminder of the need for dignity and humanity at all times and it’s just something we should never ever forget and we should not take our eye off the ball.”

While the decision of the Ombudsman is a positive result, why does it take so much effort to recognize that seclusion rooms are an affront to dignity and humanity? As the Chief Ombudsman noted in his decision, the result only occurred because the child’s parents were furious when they discovered how their child was being abused and, critically, raised a ruckus. Why must parents raise a ruckus to have their children treated decently and humanely?

This isn’t only about minors. Ashley Peacock is an adult living with intellectual disability, autism and mental illness. Under New Zealand’s Mental Health Act, Ashley Peacock was a compulsory, institutionalized patient. In that capacity, Ashley Peacock had been placed in solitary confinement, “seclusion rooms,” for years on end. In 2016, his parents started a national and international campaign to get their son out of the hellhole of solitary confinement and into more appropriate community based services. In 2016, Ashley Peacock was 38 years old. He had spent ten years in “care” institutions. Most of that time, he spent in isolation. In 2017, Ashley Peacock was moved to a community location. In December 2017, New Zealand announced it would phase out seclusion rooms in psychiatric institutions within two years.

Advocates for autistic children worry that, despite the law, schools might still use seclusion rooms. Consider this: no one knows how many hours that eleven-year-old child spent in solitary confinement, crying and pleading for help, because there are no records kept. In other schools, teachers refused to talk to police about their use of seclusion rooms. Hopefully, New Zealand will invest in enforcement of the new laws, but more will be needed. We must ask ourselves about our investment in torture that passes for education, on one hand, and for care, on the other. Why should parents have to be furious in order to keep their children, at all ages, from being tortured? When did solitary confinement become an integral part of education? When did the vulnerable become the execrable, the cursed?

 

(Photo Credit: New Zealand Herald)

There are no plans to close the camp in Nauru

“There are no plans to close the camp in Nauru.” Thus ends Reuters “Factbox: Why does Australia detain asylum seekers in offshore camps?”. The “Factbox” relates the current situation in the closed detention centers on Manus Island and, to a much lesser extent, on Nauru. Last year, the Papua New Guinea High Court declared the Manus detention center illegal. Last month, Australia closed the center and tried to move its 700+ men to another center, one without running water. 600 some men decided to stay and have occupied the center since, at great risk to their own lives. Journalist and Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani, imprisoned on Manus Island since August 2014, wrote, “Death is always ever so present. Death. The breath of death. The scent of death. The reign of death over Manus prison. This is the reality of living out here.” Death. This is Australia’s vaunted “Pacific Solution”: horror, torture, death. Take the bodies, the more vulnerable the better, and throw them in a pit, far away, where the “good people” of Australia need not see or hear them cry. Pregnant women, children, men, survivors all, throw them away. To re-open the “Factbox”, “So far, no `boat person’ detained on Manus or Nauru has been resettled in Australia.”

Last year, all eyes were on Nauru. Leaked reports last year showed that 2,000 incidents of sexual abuse, assault and attempted self-harm had occurred. Many of these involved children. The United Nations chastised Australia and Nauru for their failure, call it refusal, to protect asylum seeker and refugee children from sexual abuse. Amnesty International called the conditions on Nauru torture. Currently, Australia detains 369 people on Nauru. 46 of them are women, and 43 are children.

By air, Nauru is a little over 2000 miles from Brisbane, and, for those detained and tortured there, galaxies and light years away. And for Australians? Why does Australia detain asylum seekers in Nauru? Why is Australia not only not shocked but proud of its torture of refugee and asylum seeker children, women, and men on Nauru? Why does Australia hate pregnant and abused women asylum seekers on Nauru? The answer? “There are no plans to close the camp in Nauru.” There is no more to be said.

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Saba Vasefi)

What happened to Raynbow Gignilliat? The routine torture of solitary confinement

Raynbow Gignilliat

“They didn’t treat her for two months and she was left in a manic state. Basically, in all aspects, I would call it torture,” said attorney Jack Jacks, discussing the final months of Raynbow Gignilliat’s short life. Raynbow Gignilliat, 39-year-old mother of three, was arrested in October 2013. She was sent to the Sandoval County Jail, in Bernalillo, New Mexico, where she spent two months in solitary confinement. Then she was sent to an emergency room. Then, against doctors’ orders, she was returned to solitary. In January 2014, Raynbow Gignilliat was sent to the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute. In the Spring 2014, Raynbow Gignilliat was released from the hospital and all charges against her were dropped. By June 2014, Raynbow Gignilliat was dead. The reports say she “committed suicide”, but her family and supporters know that Raynbow Gignilliat was killed by State torture.

From the moment Raynbow Gignilliat encountered the so-called criminal justice system to today, almost three years after her death, from beginning to end, this is a story of State violence, viciousness and brutality. Raynbow Gignilliat had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. For most of her life, she had managed her mental health without medication. Then, things fell apart, largely due to a messy divorce and custody battle. In late October 2013, Raynbow Gignilliat was arrested on a domestic battery charge, following a dispute with her mother, with whom she was living. Her mother called the police, hoping they would take her daughter to the hospital. Instead, they arrested her and sent her off.

After about two weeks in custody, Raynbow Gignilliat was moved into solitary confinement, also known as segregation. Remarkably, there are no records to explain this move. Once in solitary, Raynbow Gignilliat’s health deteriorated swiftly. Staff watched as she covered herself in feces, punched herself, dunked her head in her toilet water, hallucinated, screamed. Staff watched Raynbow Gignilliat’s increasing and intensifying dementia for six weeks. Finally, they sent her to an emergency room, where doctors said she should be sent to a psychiatric hospital or she would die. Instead, she was returned to solitary confinement, where she sat for another month, begging for help in the only way she could, through self-harm.

Finally, in January, Raynbow Gignilliat was moved to a hospital where she received treatment. While there, all charges against her were dropped. When Raynbow Gignilliat was released from the hospital, she was free … to kill herself. Her family says the damage had already been done. She was not the same woman.

Last week, Sandoval County agreed to a settlement of $1.8 million, to be distributed to trust funds for each of Raynbow Gignilliat’s children. The jail’s medical provider, Correct Care Solutions, has also settled, for an undisclosed amount. Sandoval County is quick to note that its insurance company covers this sort of thing, and so Sandoval County is only on the hook for $15,000.

Meanwhile, the case of Raynbow Gignilliat led to the discovery of the abuse and torture of Sharon Vanwagner, who was also booked in the Sandoval County Jail in October 2013, who lives with psychosis and delusions, who spent three months in solitary confinement, who deteriorated rapidly and dramatically, and whose charges were ultimately dropped.

What happened to Raynbow Gignilliat and Sharon Vangwaner, what is happening to so many women living with mental illness in county jails across the country? “Basically, in all aspects, I would call it torture.”

(Photo Credit: KOAT TV)

“There’s something really, really going on in that place for a 14-year-old to want to kill herself”

In the United States, children are routinely thrown into solitary confinement, often for the most trivial reasons and often for long periods of time. As of a study conducted last year, 28 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of punitive solitary confinement in juvenile correctional facilities. This list of 29 includes jurisdictions that allow up to four hours per day. Additionally, of these 29 states, 25 allow for solitary confinement for non-punitive reasons, such as so-called safety concerns. Of the 25, 12 allow for indefinite solitary confinement of juveniles … for their own good. These are the `good’ states. At the other end, seven states have no limits on solitary confinement of juveniles: Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Texas, and Wyoming. The remaining 15 states offer a smorgasbord of juvenile solitary confinement offerings, ranging from six hours to 90 days. Four states allow for children to be thrown into the hole for more than 5 days. North Carolina and West Virginia allow for up to 10 days isolation. Until last year, California allowed for 90 days of isolation. As of January 1, 2017, new laws went into effect concerning California’s use of solitary confinement for children. With that change, Wisconsin became the winner of the race to hell, with its allowance of up to 60 days in isolation for children. This week, four children, and their attorneys, families, friends and supporters, said NO MORE, and filed a lawsuit. This is the story of Meranda Davis’ daughter, known as KD, currently held at Copper Lake School for Girls, one of two juvenile detention facilities in Wisconsin. It’s not a school, and it’s not for girls. It’s hell, and it has been so for a long time.

The lawsuit opens: “The State of Wisconsin operates the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls, which incarcerate approximately 150-200 youth who are as young as 14 years old, in remote northern Wisconsin. The State routinely subjects these youth to unlawful solitary confinement, mechanical restraints and pepper spraying. Prior to state and federal raids on the facility at the end of 2015, staff also regularly physically abused youth in the facility. Currently, Wisconsin’s juvenile corrections officials lock up approximately 15 to 20% percent or more of the facilities’ young residents in solitary confinement cells for 22 or 23 hours per day. Many of these children are forced to spend their only free hour of time per day outside of a solitary confinement cell in handcuffs and chained to a table. Officers also repeatedly and excessively use Bear Mace and other pepper sprays against the youth, causing them excruciating pain and impairing their breathing.”

While the situation is cruel and usual torture, the real point is that two years ago, the federal government put Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools on notice, and not only did nothing happen, the situation actually worsened. As Laurence Dupuis, attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin, noted, “Usually when the ACLU shows up, people start changing their habits and things get a bit better. We saw none of that here.”

Meranda Davis takes the story from there: “If you choose to steal cars, you deserve to wind up in a juvenile jail. I know that. But nobody deserves to be treated the way they treat people in there … She call me crying after getting out of solitary. They send kids for two weeks just for talking back in class. One time, they were punishing a girl in solitary, so they just fired a whole can of pepper spray into the unit. Everyone was coughing and crying. My daughter was coughing up blood … She said that they kept on throwing her in confinement and she basically lost her mind. She had a seizure. She just lost her mind and didn’t know what to do because she didn’t have any support. She just was like thrown in a room and nothing.” According to Meranda Davis, her daughter tried to kill herself, “There’s something really, really going on in that place for a 14-year-old, she was 14 at the time, to want to kill herself.”

There’s something really really wrong with a State and in a nation that drives children to suicide. Copper Lake School for Girls and Lincoln Hills School for Boys should be shut down, but that is only the beginning. We can’t continue to throw children into cages, we can’t continue to throw away their lives and the lives of their families and communities, and we can’t continue to condone and support torture. End solitary confinement of children now. End solitary confinement now. Without delay and without exception. As Meranda Davis said of her daughter, “She has big hopes and she is the reason I am standing here right now. I want her changed. I don’t want to see her come out a wicked person times 10.”

 

(Photo Credit 1: Kyle Rogers/Northwoods River News) (Image Credit: New York Times/Amanda Lanzone)