Posted February 26th, 2017.
U.S. District Judge Orders Jail to Stop Solitary Confinement, Requires Delivery of Educational Services & Provides Class Certification for Young Plaintiffs
February 27, 2017, Syracuse, NY — Ongoing collaboration between lawyers at the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Legal Services of Central New York (LSCNY) and Sanford Heisler LLP today resulted in a significant victory for youth incarcerated in Syracuse, New York’s Justice Center jail.
A preliminary injunction granted by U.S. District Judge David N. Hurd in the landmark case put an end to the use of solitary confinement as a form of punishment for 16- and 17-year-olds. The NYCLU and LSCNY filed the case last September against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office and Syracuse City School District.
Judge Hurd’s order prevents the Justice Center from continuing to impose 23-hour-per-day disciplinary isolation for incarcerated youth, directing further that all discipline in the future must include meaningful social interaction and cannot be psychologically harmful. The injunction also directed the Sheriff and District to provide appropriate schooling to all eligible youth while they are confined to the facility.
Sanford Heisler Associate Aimee Krause Stewart was a Fellow at NYCLU when the suit originated. As a Fellow, she served as counsel for the youthful plaintiffs, playing significant roles in investigating the complaint, and in drafting and filing the lawsuit. Stewart has continued to assume a significant pro bono role in the matter since joining Sanford Heisler’s Washington, DC office in October.
“It is evident that putting a child in solitary confinement is psychologically damaging and unjust,” said Stewart. “It was a wonderful victory to have the Court’s opinion validate these grave concerns.”
Stewart, the NYCLU and LSCNY successfully argued that locking up children younger than 18 in near-complete isolation violates their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to protection from cruel and unusual punishment. Their brief also noted many of the youth subjected to solitary confinement are mentally ill, and are routinely subjected to sexual harassment and violative physical, emotional and social conditions.
“Our firm is gratified to play a role in ensuring that children incarcerated in the Onondaga County jail are treated humanely and receive all of the services to which they are entitled under the law,” said David Sanford, the Chairman and co-founder of Sanford Heisler.
The suit also persuasively argued the Sheriff’s Office and Syracuse City School District are violating incarcerated youths’ right to an education while they are locked up at the Justice Center. Judge Hurd denied the School District’s request to be dismissed from the case and ordered the District to provide educational services to children at the facility immediately.
At oral argument on February 15, 2017, the Court also granted class certification in the matter from the bench, which will allow all youth who are or will be incarcerated at the Justice Center, many of whom are individuals with qualifying disabilities under the federal IDEA, to pursue injunctive relief against the Sheriff and District for their treatment while incarcerated at the Justice Center.