An Ohio juvenile correctional facility placed a child, who was on suicide watch and psychiatric medication, in solitary confinement for 1,964 hours between April and September of last year, according to the Department of Justice. Referred to as "K.R." in court documents, the boy's longest uninterrupted stretch of solitary confinement lasted about 19 days. And his experience isn't unique: Four juvenile correctional facilities in Ohio imposed almost 60,000 hours of solitary confinement on 229 boys with mental-health needs in the second half of 2013, according to the government agency.
These details, and other harrowing accounts, are included in a March 12 lawsuit filed by the the Justice Department against the state of Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich, and others, on the basis that the state's excessive use of solitary confinement among children with mental-health issues is unconstitutional. The lawsuit names four state juvenile correctional facilities that are engaging in confinement practices that "will cause irreparable harm to these youth," according to the agency. "The way in which Ohio uses seclusion to punish youth with mental health needs victimizes one of the most vulnerable groups in our society," Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a March statement.
Electric shocks. Withholding food. Social isolation. Read MoJo's investigation into the infamous "School of Shock."
"We have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for youth and staff, and seclusion is used as a last resort to maintain safety and order so that we can help youth change their lives," Frances Russ, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Youth Services, which is named in the lawsuit, tells Mother Jones. Under the agency's policy, youth placed in seclusion are supposed to be checked visually by staff every 15 minutes and visited daily by personnel. Russ couldn't comment on whether this protocol was followed in the case of K.R. and other children mentioned in the lawsuit. The Justice Department notes that at one facility, mental-health staff visited briefly each day, but did not deliver adequate treatment.
In the past few years, there has been growing researchon the harm solitary confinement inflicts on adult prisoners. A United Nations expert on torture said in 2011 that solitary confinement should never be inflicted on adults for more than 15 days, noting that scientific studies have documented mental damage after only a few days in isolation. Mother Jones contributor Shane Bauer, who spent four months in solitary confinement in Iran, has called solitary confinement in US prisons comparable to the horrific conditions he experienced abroad, if not worse—people regularly spend years or decades in solitary in the United States. But while solitary confinement of adults has recently gotten some attention, the seclusion of children is a practice that largely still occurs in the dark. "No one knows exactly what is happening to children behind bars, and no is accountable," says Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the ACLU's National Prison Project (NPP). "If this harms adults so terribly, what does it do to kids who are still growing and developing?"
The Justice Department has recently started taking action on solitary confinement of juveniles, as part of the Obama administration's push to stop discrimination against mentally disabled Americans. In addition to the Ohio case, in February, the Justice Department intervened in a case against Contra Costa County, California, over the solitary confinement of children with disabilities in juvenile hall. In one example, a 17-year-old was placed in a solitary confinement for 60 days because he was hearing voices, and eventually "began smearing feces in his cell" and suffered a psychotic break, according to the agency.
As Alison Parker, director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch explains, children with mental illness or disabilities often have a difficult time following the rules, so they're the first to be put in isolation. "The irony is that placing them in seclusion can exacerbate the same illness that led to the behavior," she says. According to research released by the Justice Department, more than 50 percent of suicides of children detained at juvenile facilities occurred while they were isolated alone in their rooms.
The Justice Department's Ohio lawsuit is an expansion of a previous complaint. In 2008, Ohio agreed to reform two juvenile correction facilities after the Justice Department found numerous problems, including the overuse of solitary confinement. Since then, one of those facilities closed and the other is closing. But last week, a US District judge granted the Justice Department's request to expand the lawsuit to additional facilities. The judge ruled that there were "new and more serious violations of the constitutional rights of youth via the excessive use of seclusion and denial of adequate mental health treatment."
The Department of Justice also sought a temporary restraining order to stop the state from putting children with mental-health needs, like K.R., in solitary isolation for more than three consecutive days while the lawsuit is ongoing. The order has not yet been granted. In January, an attorney cited in Justice Department legal documents who interviewed K.R. noted that, "Staff and the client both reported that he bangs his head frequently. He had fresh head injuries as I spoke to him. Something drives him to self destructive behavior and whatever has been tried so far does not seem to be working."
Ohio is fighting the request for a restraining order, arguing that the state is already largely complying with the Justice Department's requirements, and "at the very least, there is no constitutional violation." Asked whether K.R. and other at-risk youth designated by the Justice Department are still being put in solitary confinement as of this writing, Russ said, "When seclusion is used, youth continue to receive all services including education, behavioral health services, recreation, and more."
Ohio doesn't have a law on the books barring solitary confinement of kids in juvenile detention centers or correctional facilities. At least seven states have restrictions in place, but most don't. And it's a practice that's widespread across the United States. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called for an end to the practice among juveniles, the mentally ill, and pregnant women in a hearing last year, but, so far, no such federal law exists. Ian Kysel, a fellow at the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute who testified at Durbin's hearing, says that the solitary confinement of children is nonetheless illegal under federal and human rights law.
The Justice Department argues that children in solitary in Ohio aren't always getting adequate education and mental-health treatment. Advocates say that it's hard to know what happens in facilities in the United States, because data is scarce.
Civil liberties organizations interviewed children serving time in adult prisons who had been subject to this form of isolation in 2012. "There is nothing to do so you start talking to yourself and getting lost in your own little world. It is crushing," Paul K, who spent 60 days in solitary when he was 14, told the researchers. "You get depressed and wonder if it is even worth living." A teen held at Rikers Island in New York—which, as a city facility, is exempt from the state's ban on solitary confinement—recently told the Center for Investigative Reporting that his longest stretch in "the box," a six-by-eight-foot cell, lasted four months. "There's so many people that have been in that cell and screamed on that same gate, it smells like a bunch of breath and drool."
A Catholic nun has caused a firestorm after she allegedly told teens at Charlotte Catholic High School in North Carolina last month that masturbation can turn boys gay, and gay men have up to 1,000 sexual partners. Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, an assistant professor of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, reportedly has a history of anti-gay rhetoric. In one of her online lectures, she called oral sex an abnormal act that's "imported from the homosexual culture," according to the Charlotte-based LGBT publication, QNotes. A Charlotte Catholic student described the lecture to the news outlet:
She started talking about how gays [sic] people are gay because they have an absent father figure, and therefore they have not received the masculinity they should have from their father ... Also a guy could be gay if he masterbates [sic] and so he thinks he is being turned on by other guys. And then she gave an example of one of her gay 'friends' who said he used to go to a shed with his friends and watch porn and thats why he was gay. … Then she talked about the statistic where gay men have had either over 500 or 1000 sexual partners and after that I got up and went to the bathroom because I should not have had to been subject to that extremely offensive talk.
In one of her online videos Laurel reiterates that "a man's desire for instance, for his father's love, his father's affection, what happens to it? It can become sexualized. And he can begin to think he has a sexual desire for another man, when in fact, he doesn't." She adds that boys who have been sexual abused also use "homosexual acts" as revenge. When reached by phone, Laurel said she hadn't seen all the reports yet, and could not immediately provide comment.
Aquinas College President Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith defended the school presentation in a statement to the Tennessean, maintaining that, "the presentation was given with the intention of showing that human sexuality is a great gift to be treasured and that this gift is given by God." But some North Carolina students didn't agree, starting a Change.org petition that's culminated in a Wednesday meeting to address the concerns, according to the Huffington Post. The students said in their petition: "We reject the suggestion that homosexuality occurs mainly as a result of a parent’s shortcomings, masturbation or pornography."
It's not only private school students that are subject to strange claims during sex-ed lectures. As we reported last year, public schools also invite religious abstinence speakers to talk to students about sex—and sometimes spread misinformation in the process.
Pam Stenzel, an abstinence lecturer who claims to speak to over 500,000 young people each year, allegedly told public school students at George Washington High School in Charleston, West Virginia, last year, "If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you." Shelly Donahue, a speaker for the Colorado-based Center for Relationship Education, told students in a training video posted by the Denver Westword in 2011 that if a guy gets sperm near a girl's vagina, it will turn into a "little Hoover vacuum" and she will become pregnant. Jason Evert, who has scheduled some visits to public schools on his 2014 calendar, advises girls that they should "only lift the veil over your body to the spouse who is worthy to see the glory of that unveiled mystery." To see our full list of abstinence speakers who have given talks in public schools, click here. Good luck, America.
On Thursday, the White House released its proposal to end the National Security Agency's bulk collection program, which hoovers up the phone records of millions of Americans. Currently, the NSA stores Americans' phone metadata (which doesn't include the content of calls) for five years. Under the President's new proposal, phone companies will instead be tasked with holding onto this data, which will they will store for 18 months. Additionally, the government would only be allowed to query these records if it gets approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, though the president's plan includes an exemption for as-yet-unspecified "emergency" situations. Here are five more things you need to know about the President's proposal:
1. It only addresses the bulk collection of phone records.
The collection of telephone records has gotten a lot of attention from Congress—but documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have revealed many other controversial surveillance programs. Last October, for instance, the Washington Post reported that the NSA had broken Google and Yahoo's encryption and was siphoning millions of their users records into the agency's data centers. In a press call on Thursday with civil liberties groups, privacy experts argued that President Obama should make additional reforms that address these other alleged surveillance programs. "Our phone records are sensitive, but so are our financial records, Internet information, email data," said Michelle Richardson, the ACLU's legislative counsel. "It reveals who we know, where we go, what we do, what we think and what we believe, and those sorts of records need just as much protection."
2. Phone companies aren't too psyched about Obama's plan, so the administration might compensate them.
On Thursday, Verizon announced that it opposes aspects of the plan. "If Verizon receives a valid request for business records, we will respond in a timely way, but companies should not be required to create, analyze or retain records for reasons other than business purposes," Randal Milch, Verizon's general counsel and executive vice president for public policy, said in a statement. In a call with reporters on Thurday, White House officials emphasized that the administration has been meeting with phone companies to come up with a workable solution, which could potentially include compensating them for their efforts. "I certainly would envision, consistent with what the government does today with respect to compensating phone companies and others for their production of records in response to lawful court process, I think we would see a similar approach," said a senior administration official.
3. The plan is still missing a lot of key details.
According to a press release issued by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York School of Law on Thursday, the Obama administration has yet to "identify the standard that the government must meet to obtain a court order, beyond a vague reference to 'national security concerns.' Nor does the fact sheet identify any limits on the government's ability to keep and search the records it obtains, which will necessarily include large amounts of information about innocent Americans." In the White House press, a reporter asked senior administration officials how long the NSA could keep querying data once it had obtained a court order. An official responded: "I'm not going to presuppose what that time period would be right now."
4. Obama could end the program now if he wanted to, but he's waiting for Congress to act.
President Obama could end the NSA's bulk collection program without congressional approval, but he's choosing not to. A senior White House official said on Thursday, "The President believes the government should no longer collect and hold the bulk [telephone] metadata. He's also got a responsibility as commander-in-chief to ensure that we maintain the capabilities of this program, and he wants to see it done in a way that also responds to the concerns that have been identified and to create a program and have a discussion about it, and have legislation that would promote confidence in our intelligence-gathering activities."
5. There are competing bills to end the program. Privacy advocates hate one of them.
On Thursday, privacy advocates took issue with the NSA reform bill introduced this week by members of the House intelligence committee. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), ends the bulk collection program, but doesn't require strict judicial review before the NSA queries phone companies for their customers' records. President Obama's proposal, in contrast, does require this review. The ACLU's Richardson notes that the Rogers-Ruppersberger plan would allow the FBI and other agencies to directly demand information from companies. "It's not a fix, it's not even a half-measure," she said. Privacy advocates support the USA Freedom Act, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), which includes more civil liberties protections.
On Thursday, the Turkish government blocked the country's access to YouTube, after banningTwitter earlier this month, in an effort to quell anti-government sentiment prior to local elections on March 30. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that social networks are facilitating the spread of wiretapped recordings that have been politically damaging. The YouTube block reportedly came about after a video surfaced of government officials discussing the possibility of going to war with Syria.The government officially banned Twitter after the network refused to take down an account accusing a former minister of corruption. Twitter is challenging the ban and a Turkish court overturned it on Wednesday, but it's not yet clear how an appeal might play out.
Turkey is hardly the first country to crack down on social unrest by going after social networks. There are at least six other countries currently blocking Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter in some capacity (see map below), and many more have instituted temporary blocks over the last couple of years. Here's everything you need to know:
China: China blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in 2009. The Twitter and Facebook bans took place after a peaceful protest by Uighurs, China's Muslim ethnic minority, broke into deadly riots in Xinjiang. In September 2013, the government decided to stop censoring foreign websites in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, a 17-square-mile area in mainland China, but these social networks are still largely blocked nationwide.
Iran: Iran has blocked Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube on and off (usually off) since they were banned in 2009 following Iran's contentious presidential election.
Vietnam: Over the last couple of years, there have been widespread reports of Facebook being blocked in Vietnam. The block is fairly easy to bypass, and many Vietnamese citizens use the social network. However, in September 2013, Vietnam passed a law prohibiting citizens from posting anti-government content on the social network. Facebook did not comment on access in Vietnam.
Pakistan: In September 2012, Pakistan blocked YouTube after the site reportedly refused to take down an anti-Islam video that sparked protests in the country. The block has continued through March 2014, according to Google.
North Korea: Internet access is highly restricted in North Korea.
Eritrea: According to Reporters Without Borders, in 2011, two of the country's major internet service providers blocked YouTube. Freedom House, a US watchdog that conducts research on political freedom, said the site was blocked in its 2013 report and notes, "The government requires all internet service providers to use state-controlled internet infrastructure." Eritrea is routinely listed as one of the most censored countries in the world. Google does not include Eritrea on its list of countries in its transparency report that currently block YouTube, but notes that the list "is not comprehensive" and may not include partial blocks. (Update, 3/31: Since this article came out, some users familiar with Eritrea have said that the site is not blocked, but instead, often inaccessible due to lack of bandwidth. A spokesperson for Freedom House, which found that the site was blocked when investigators put together the 2013 report, said that, "Since Eritrea has one of the worst infrastructures in Africa, it is possible that some ISPs deliberately block services that require a lot of bandwidth, to allow other traffic to be more stable." He also noted that the government's poor human rights record indicates that the inaccessibility of YouTube could be related to censorship.)
Outside of these current blocks, many governments have banned social-media networks in the past, during periods of unrest. Here's a brief history of notable incidents:
Since 2009, Google has counted 16 disruptions to YouTube in 11 regions, often in the wake of protests. In March 2009, Bangladesh blocked YouTube for four days after someone posted a video of a meeting between army officers and the Prime Minister that revealed unrest in the military. Bangladesh blocked the network again for an extended period between 2012 and 2013 over an anti-Islam video. Libya blockedYouTube (and other social networks) for 574 days between 2010 and 2011, after the site hosted videos depicting families of prisoners killed in Abu Salim prison demonstrating in Benghazi, according to Human Rights Watch. Syria blocked YouTube (as well as Facebook) for about three years, lifting the ban in February 2011. Tajikistan has blocked YouTube more than once, most recently in 2013, over a video of the president dancing. Afghanistan blocked YouTube for 113 days between September 2012 and January 2013, after fears that an anti-Islam film on the site would spark further riots. Here's how Google depicts the Afghanistan ban:
Twitter, which was used as a tool to organize protests during the Arab Spring, was shut down partially or completely by several governments in the region in 2011, including Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Cameroon, and Malawi, according to the OpenNet Initiative. Belarus has also blocked major social networks, including Twitter, in 2011 to quell anti-government protests. That same year, when a series of riots swept the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to ban people from using social-networking sites, including Twitter and Facebook, although he didn't go through with it. Targeting specific users or pages is more common than complete bans on Twitter—South Korea, for example, blocked access to North Korea's official Twitter account in 2010 on the basis that it contained "illegal information." When it's clear that a certain Tweet or user is only being blocked in a select country, Twitter flags it as "Country Withheld Content."
Facebook was also temporarily blocked by several countries during the Arab Spring. In 2010, Pakistan temporarily blocked Facebook after it hosted a competition called, "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day," which collected about 200 entries. Myanmar has sporadically blocked Facebook; China claims the ban was lifted there in 2013. There have also been instances where governments have blocked fake individual pages pretending to belong to world leaders. In 2008, Morocco went so far as to arrest a man for creating a profile posing as Prince Moulay Rachid. So far, Turkey has not yet chosen to censor Facebook, but that might simply be because it's not on the prime minister's radar. "What is this thing called Twitter, anyway?" Erdogan said Tuesday on NTV, a privately owned Turkish news channel. "It is a company, involved in communication, social media, etc."
In October 2012, four assailants allegedly kidnapped a California pot dispensary owner and drove him out to the desert, where they believed he was hiding the proceeds of his successful marijuana business. There was no cash to be found, but, in a bid to make the businessman talk, the would-be-robbers burned him with a blow torch and then cut off his penis, driving away with it so that it couldn't be surgically reattached.
So far 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, but with the rise of the legal pot business has come a wave of robberies and other crimes targeting pot dispensaries and their owners. The purveyors of legal pot are a major crime magnet, in part because they largely operate on a cash-only basis. And that's due to the fact that most banks and credit card firms refuse to work with these businesses for fear of being prosecuted under federal law, where the sale of pot remains illegal. Last month, the Obama administration issued new guidelines aimed at making banks feel more at ease in providing services to legal marijuana businesses. But the administration stopped short of promising immunity, so for now most financial firms are steering clear.
That leaves many potrepreneurs to handle large amounts of cash—and fearful for their safety. "Everyone in the industry is having nightmares," Michael Elliot, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, recently told NBC. So perhaps it's fitting then that the idea for PotCoin—a new digital currency, akin to bitcoin, that's being marketed to legal marijuana businesses—came to "MrJones" in a dream.