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KARE 11 Investigates: How one state changed its practices and ended juvenile solitary

If Minnesota is looking for solutions on ending juvenile solitary confinement, it might look to Colorado, which ended the practice and made the state safer.

Brandon Stahl (KARE11), Lauren Leamanczyk, Steve Eckert

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Published: 2:29 PM CST February 26, 2023
Updated: 12:25 PM CST February 27, 2023

Noah couldn’t take it anymore.

Almost a year into being at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center last October, a guard told the teenager he was going to write him up for punching all the buttons in an elevator, according to facility records.

That set Noah off. He started throwing food, the kind of violation that gets JDC kids thrown into solitary.

Solitary can be a few hours, maybe days, maybe weeks, Noah said in an interview with KARE 11 from inside the JDC.

Credit: Courtesy of Noah's mother, Noelle
Several photos of Noah, who has been in solitary confinement in the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center.

He said he feels dirty in solitary. He doesn’t feel human. He feels like an animal.

“It’s something you can’t fight.”

Noah tied one end of a sheet to a door handle, then wrapped the other end around his neck.

Had a guard not checked on Noah during their rounds, he might be dead. He’s tried to kill himself at least twice more since then.

Minnesota’s juvenile lockups routinely put kids like Noah into solitary confinement, as KARE 11 has previously exposed. The practice – known as “Disciplinary Room Time” – has no restrictions on how often it can be used, nor how long kids can be placed into solitary. 

Records reviewed by KARE show that juvenile detention facilities and the state’s juvenile prison have ordered kids into solitary for 24-hours-or-longer more than 7,500 times in the last five years.

Minnesota’s three largest juvenile lockups have ordered kids into solitary for five days-or-longer nearly 700 times since 2018.

Credit: KARE 11

The mental health impacts can be devastating. One study found that half of the kids who committed suicide in juvenile detentions did so while in isolation.

It’s a practice that numerous experts say can also make children even more aggressive, putting the public at risk when they’re released.

“You’re not supposed to put kids in their own time-outs for five days,” said State Sen. Ron Latz, the chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety committee. “It would probably qualify as child abuse under Minnesota law if you did that.”

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