Juvenile Justice: Isolation Rooms used at Bridge City Center for Youth

Broken Part 2: Isolation Rooms

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -Inside the Bridge City Center for Youth, 77 male inmates stay in large dorms where as many as 12 teens and young adults sleep.

But, when behaviors escalate, inmates could end up in isolation.

It’s called the behavior intervention room.

“The Behavior Intervention room is meant for short term when a kid may be escalating in behaviors. There’s a bed in there and the door locks,” Dr. James Bueche said.

The isolation rooms at Bridge City are used to de-escalate a juvenile’s behavior.

“Most of the time, a kid goes in and behaviors calm down and they go back into programming,” Dr. James Bueche said.

“If they’re acting out and they’re a violent threat toward others and you need to de-escalate, there are better ways to do that. There are mans to bring specialist and therapist in to do that,” says Wendy Matherne.

Criminal Justice advocate, Wendy Matherne, believes a juvenile in isolation does more harm than good.

“Even if someone is sitting outside the door and watching you out of that slit of a window, that’s terrifying to me. To think that these children are already in danger, already broken, already hurting, we’re not doing them any good,” says Matherne.

It’s a practice, though, that’s used in other juvenile detention centers across the country. Dr. James Bueche, the Deputy Secretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice, says national statistics show the Behavior Intervention Rooms are used far less than in other facilities.

“Our numbers of the length of time a kid stays in that type of environment is a whole lot less than what you will see in any other facility around the country. This facility has worked hard to get that data and to get those numbers down,” Dr. James Bueche said.

FOX 8 obtained the facility’s Behavior Intervention Room reports from all of 2019.

“It’s not a cell or a prison cell. There’s no bathroom in there. We don’t want the kid to get comfortable or lay down and take a nap. It’s not meant to be anything over an hour,” Dr. James Bueche said.

But it turns out, the majority of the people locked in the isolation rooms last year were held there for more than an hour. That was the case in 50 of the 70 reports we reviewed.

We found some of the juveniles were sent to the room for fighting or assault.

‘It’s not something we like to do or want to do. Again, it’s a last resort, and we do everything we can not to do that,” says Dr. Busch.

Bueche says his staff is trained to de-escalate situations and avoid the Behavior Intervention Room, but sometimes it’s impossible. In other cases, though, reports show youth ‘running around the campus’ were locked in the room.

One report shows a young inmate spent more than 14 hours in isolation for it.

“You’re locked in a room with a metal bed frame. There’s nothing to do. I’d be interested to know, are they given reading material? Is there anything purposeful for them to do during that time other than break down?” says Wendy Matherne

Bueche says the detained teens are allowed to come out of the room to shower or go to the restroom. Plus, he says staff brings them missed school work.

While some were locked in for hours, others are in there for days.

In one report, a teen touched the gate by the rec field, climbed that gate, broke windows and was non-compliant. He spent 5 days in the Behavior Intervention Room.

“On those, that would have been approved by me on a case by case basis because something happened that we needed time getting to the bottom of,” Dr. James Bueche said.

Bueche says in some cases, an inmate is kept in the room during on-going investigations while they gather information and conduct interviews. In one report, a teen spent nearly two days inside the Behavior Intervention Room for an ‘overnight investigative purpose.”

“There’s a number of reasons for that but it’s all driven by the safety of that kid and safety of the staff,” Dr. James Bueche said.

Safety though isn’t always the reason. We found a young man who spent 5 days in the room because the infirmary was full.

“But when you’re looking at hour upon hour, day upon day of a young mind locked in a concrete room, it’s inhumane,” says Matherne.

Bueche says while the room is used to de-escalate behaviors, it doesn’t solve the overlying problem of what’s going on in the first place.

“Because when they get into the community, there may not be an option to remove yourself from a situation. You’re going to have to deal with those types of issues,” Dr. James Bueche said.

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