Title 18 U.S. Code § 5043 - Juvenile Solitary Confinement
In response to public pressure regarding the practice of keeping juvenile delinquents in solitary confinement for extended lengths of time, and out of concerns for the mental health issues this practice might induce—the federal government passed significant reforms to this practice as part of the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA).
These reforms are now embodied in Title 18 U.S. Code 5043. This law restricts using solitary confinement as a punishment for juveniles in federal custody, limiting the practice only to situations in which the juvenile's behavior presents an immediate risk of harm—and only for a limited period.
18 U.S.C. 5043 subsection (1) says, “the term “covered juvenile” means (A) a juvenile who (i) is being proceeded against under this chapter for an alleged act of juvenile delinquency, or (ii) has been adjudicated delinquent under this chapter; or (B) a juvenile being proceeded against as an adult in a United States district court for an alleged criminal offense.”
Subsection (2) says that a “juvenile facility” is any facility where juveniles are committed for adjudication of delinquency or where they are detained before disposition or conviction. Room confinement means the involuntary placement of a child alone in a cell, room, or other areas for any reason.
Simply put, the prohibition on room confinement in juvenile facilities is the use of room confinement for discipline, punishment, retaliation, or any reason that poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm to anyone, including the juvenile. Let's review this federal law further below.
What Does the Law Say?
18 U.S.C. 5043 establishes the following critical provisions for “covered juveniles” who are in custody under the law:
- Juveniles can't be placed in “room confinement” (i.e., solitary) for discipline, punishment, or retaliation. This practice has been virtually eliminated.
- The only situation in which juveniles can be placed in room confinement is “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.” For example, if the minor acts erratically and violently and needs to be separated from others for the protection of all involved.
- In situations where a juvenile's behavior poses a risk, officials must implement the “least restrictive techniques” necessary. In other words, they must begin by attempting to talk to the child to de-escalate the situation, then send in a mental health professional to talk to them. Only if these efforts don't work can the child be put in solitary.
- If a juvenile is placed into room confinement: staff members must explain to them (a) why they're being placed into confinement and (b) when they will be released from confinement, such as when they calm down or within the maximum time frame allowed by law.
- The juvenile must be released from solitary confinement immediately upon regaining control of themselves, so they no longer pose a threat of physical harm; OR
- If the juvenile cannot regain control, the maximum time for solitary confinement is 30 minutes if they threaten themselves or 3 hours if they threaten others.
- If the juvenile continues to pose a threat of harm after the maximum threshold of solitary confinement is reached: officials must transfer the juvenile to another location where they can be helped without the need for room confinement—whether it's another place in the facility or another facility.
What Are the Related Statutes?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 403 juvenile delinquency has several federal laws that are related to 18 U.S.C. 5043 juvenile solitary confinement, such as the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 5031 - Definitions;
- 18 U.S.C. 5032 - Delinquency proceedings in district courts;
- 18 U.S.C. 5033 - Custody before appearing before a judge;
- 18 U.S.C. 5034 - Duties of magistrate judge;
- 18 U.S.C. 5035 - Detention prior to disposition;
- 18 U.S.C. 5036 - Speedy trial;
- 18 U.S.C. 5037 - Dispositional hearing;
- 18 U.S.C. 5038 - Use of juvenile records;
- 18 U.S.C. 5039 - Commitment;
- 18 U.S.C. 5040 - Support;
- 18 U.S.C. 5042 - Revocation of probation.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Billy, a 16-year-old in federal custody for an alleged crime, gets into an argument with another juvenile in custody and begins to attack the other person physically and violently.
Staff members separate Billy from the victim and take him to another room, where a staff member tries to calm him down. After a few minutes, Billy regains his composure, and the staff member deems he is no longer a threat to the other child. Billy should not be placed in solitary confinement because a less restrictive technique was successful.
EXAMPLE 2: Same scenario, except that Billy refuses to calm down and continues threatening to "kill that kid." After a staff member and a mental health professional have both unsuccessfully talked Billy down, Billy is placed in confinement alone in a room "until he calms down or for no longer than 3 hours."
Billy regains his composure after 30 minutes and is released from room confinement. Staff members have followed the law by allowing Billy only to be in solitary confinement for the time required for him to de-escalate his threats.
EXAMPLE 3: Same scenario, except when Billy is separated from the victim, a staff member angrily throws Billy into a room alone and locks the door without explanation, where he remains for the rest of the day.
Billy's legal rights as a juvenile have been violated because he was placed in solitary as punishment, without explanation, without attempting less restrictive techniques, and for a longer time than the maximum allowed by law.
Who Is a "Covered Juvenile?"
For purposes of 18 U.S.C. 5043, a "covered juvenile" is a minor who is in federal custody for any of the following reasons:
- They have been adjudicated a "juvenile delinquent" under federal law, the federal equivalent of being convicted of a crime as an adult;
- They are currently being proceeded against for an alleged act of juvenile delinquency, the federal equivalent of being tried for a crime; OR
- They are being tried as an adult for a federal crime.
As noted, subsection (C) covers the risk of harm after maximum confinement.
It says that after the time has expired, a juvenile who continues to pose a threat shall be transferred to another juvenile facility or internal location where services can be provided without room confinement.
Further, suppose a mental health professional believes the level of crisis service needed is not currently available. In that case, a staff member of the juvenile facility will initiate a referral to a location to meet the needs of the juvenile.
If you are the parent of a juvenile in federal custody and believe your child's rights are violated under 18 U.S.C. 5043, contact an experienced federal criminal defense attorney immediately.
A skilled attorney can evaluate the situation, file complaints and motions, and take other steps to protect your child and ensure their rights are protected.
You can contact our law firm by phone or via the contact form to review the case details. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.