Texas lawmakers considered a proposal Tuesday night that would restrict the use of solitary confinement in juvenile detention centers.
In a hearing before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte presented a bill to limit the practice to four hours except in cases of six specific types of major rule violations including assault and attempted escape.
"You might think that nobody puts a kid in seclusion for more than 48 hours," Van de Putte said. "But it happens."
State records show youth offenders were put in solitary confinement in Texas juvenile centers more than 35,000 times last year. Though the Texas Juvenile Justice Department oversees the system, counties currently set their own definitions of major rule violations. Some include passing notes and horseplay.
Independent studies have shown solitary confinement can damage a developing mind. Mental health advocates and civil rights groups urged passage of the bill.
State and county juvenile justice officials, however, described solitary confinement as an important disciplinary tool.
Rosalind Carter, a shift supervisor at the Harris County Detention Center, said the requirement to release angry kids from solitary confinement after four hours could endanger staff members and other kids.
Under questioning from Sen. Van de Putte, Paul Smith, manager of Guadalupe County Detention Services, defended the inclusion of horseplay as a major violation resulting in solitary confinement.
"It can be dangerous, horse-playing around," Smith said, "and that would lead to someone getting upset and causing a fight."
Committee Chairman John Whitmire expressed strong reservations about the bill.
"Some of these dudes that they're dealing with are some really dangerous disturbed young people," Whitmire said.