National Publication Recognizes the Division of Youth Services

Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) recently recognized the Division of Youth Services (DYS)  for reducing the use of seclusion. Research does not show that the common practice reduces problem behavior in juveniles. In fact, seclusion or isolation, are known to result in anxiety, depression, paranoia and psychosis, retraumatization, exacerbation of mental illness, and increased risk of suicide and self-harm.

JJIE lauded Colorado for making “a strong effort to move away from a punitive, correctional culture in its facilities and toward a trauma-responsive environment.” For several years, the Division has been changing policy and practice around the use of seclusion, sharply reducing its frequency. Under the leadership of a Division Director Anders Jacobson, the agency made a goal of reducing the use of isolation and creating healthy environments.

As the division expanded its trauma informed practices, Jacobson banned pressure-point pain compliance, offensive strikes by staff, strip searches and the use of the “wrap,” a physical restraint device. The Division made old seclusion rooms into “relaxation rooms” with carpeting, furniture, wall decorations and stuffed animals.

Since implementing these changes, youth-on-staff assaults in  facilities are down 22 percent from three years ago. The use of seclusion decreased 68 percent from October 2016 through July 2018. The average time spent in seclusion has averaged under an hour for nearly two years, far better than the national average. In July 2018, the average time spent in seclusion was 39 minutes. The national field average is 4.43 hours for detained youth and 10.95 hours for committed youth. There were no incidents of seclusion of more than four hours in 2017, and only three in 2018 through July. The results show the value of implementing new approaches to caring for youth and provide a model for other jurisdictions to follow.