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Onondaga County bans juvenile solitary confinement


After three years of advocacy, the Onondaga County Legislature unanimously took a stand this week against the practice of placing juveniles in solitary confinement within the county’s criminal justice system.

Placing juveniles in solitary confinement at Onondaga County’s Justice Center effectively ended last June, after Legal Services of Central New York and the New York Civil Liberties Union won a lawsuit against Onondaga County. It contended teens were being subjected to deplorable conditions in what’s called “the box” on the fifth floor of the downtown jail. It followed years of unsuccessful attempts by community groups including the ACTS Criminal Justice Task Force, and the Grace Project, to end the practice. 

Democrat Chris Ryan, who sponsored the resolution to end the practice, says it’s important that this ban continue past a 2019 court-imposed timeline.

“Going forward and not just now and within the settlement agreement, beyond the settlement agreement, it is now the policy of Onondaga County not to have juveniles in solitary confinement,” said Ryan.

Yusef Abdul-Qadir with the central New York chapter of the ACLU applauded the legislature’s vote.  

“It's not the end, it’s a basis and the beginning about what do we mean when we talk about criminal justice reform,” he said.

Abdul-Qadir would like to see more done to make sure youth have the chance to reenter society after serving time for their crimes.

“We need to do more work to ensure that not just juveniles aren’t placed in solitary ever again, or vulnerable communities aren’t placed in solitary ever again. But in fact they have the ability to become restored back in to their community, and to think more deeply about the types of impacts these policies have on people,” said Abdul-Qadir.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.