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Troublesome kids locked in isolation cells

TT/David Landes · 24 Jun 2009, 12:06

Published: 24 Jun 2009 12:06 GMT+02:00

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“A judicial scandal,” said Children’s Ombudsman Fredrik Malmberg to Sveriges Radio (SR).

In its investigation into the practices at facilities operated by Sweden’s National Board of Institutional Care (SiS), Swedish public radio discovered 463 cases of children being forced to spend time in isolation cells in the last half of 2008.

The cells, which are cramped and devoid of anything other than plastic floor mats, are only supposed to be used in cases when children are so violent or under the influence of controlled substances that no other measures work. Children are usually placed in the cells wearing nothing but underwear and can be held for up to 24 hours.

According to Swedish law, isolation cells are never supposed to be used as a form of punishment for young people.

But SR’s investigation revealed that in practice, solitary confinement is often used to punish children who come into conflict with institution staff.

In one case, a 15-year-old girl was sent to the isolation chamber because she refused to go to her room when instructed to do so by a staff member.

Another 14-year-old girl was put in solitary confinement because she “had language difficulties”.

And a 15-year-old boy was put in an isolation cell for more than 23 hours after calling staff members “racists” and screaming “fuck you”, according to files reviewed by Sveriges Radio.

Lawyers with the Children’s Ombudsman who reviewed the files concluded that staff members followed the letter of the law in only a small percentage of the cases.

“When taking into consideration how widespread it is, I think it’s fair to view this as a judicial scandal,” Malmberg told SR.

“What is supposed to be an exceptional measure has been used with great frequency and children have been isolated in violation of the law; it’s been used as a way to punish the children.”

According to the National Board of Institutional Care’s website, most young people staying at the agency’s facilities have been placed there without their consent because “they are in danger of injuring themselves or of ruining their lives”.

The board operates nearly 50 facilities around the country where they “look after young people and adults who, in various ways, have ‘gone off the rails’”.

Sveriges Radio’s findings prompted the agency’s secretary general, Ewa Persson Göransson, to promise an investigation.

In a statement issued on Wednesday following SR’s report, Persson Göransson also emphasized that staff at the agency’s facilities must continue to have the power to use solitary confinement, but that it should only be used as a safety measure.

“Isolation cannot under any circumstances be used as a punishment or seen as a method of treatment,” she said, adding that SiS plans to upgrade its client documentation system.

Story continues below…

“We need to be sure that the authority is used correctly. Therefore we have to have a system which makes it easy to see how institutions use the special powers so that we can discover any shortcomings.”

But Malmberg thinks that the isolation of children ought to be banned completely, something which the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of the Child urged Sweden to implement just last month.

“Isolation shouldn’t happen as a matter of principle. The law is very clear on this point. Therefore it’s quite remarkable that the youth homes run by the National Board of Institutional Care have had several hundred cases of isolation in half a year,” he said.

“Isolation should be phased out. Isolation is damaging, we know this.”

TT/David Landes (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

13:58 June 24, 2009 by Sam L.
What should they do? These kids are defiant and it is a power struggle. if they have all the power, they win (and they know it.)
13:59 June 24, 2009 by JonnyDee
From someone who has lived in many countries from the U.S. to Italy, Korea to Kuwait, something had to be done. I have never seen such spoiled, little bastards as in Sweden! They have no respect. I've seen kids cursing and slapping their mothers in public, I saw teenagers push old people out of the way. The Swedish system is too "nice", & has failed, outlawing even spanking, stripping teachers, police & parents of any disciplinary methods & now (as always) the State has to step in & "fix" it. These out of control brats understand only one thing & that is "denial", literally having to remove these brats from their cushy, "on-demand" worlds & forcing them to calm down. This is what stems from failure, failure to realize that kids should be taught respect for authority. That there are consequences to their actions.
14:11 June 24, 2009 by Luckystrike
" Troublesome kids locked in isolation cells "

And the problem is... ????
14:22 June 24, 2009 by RoyceD
I have no issue with using isolation or "time out" tools to help someone who is having trouble with their life. I do however have worries about a care system that has to revert to such methods on a regular basis.

Usually what is needed is a more of a proactive approach from those who are put in charge of the children to avoid the isolation chambers being used. But with the pay scale and resources available to the care workers one can hardly blame them for putting the angry teenager in isolation for a while until they calm down.

And also we are talking about the quality of the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff rather than building a fence at the top of it, which is what we should be focusing on. What I mean to say is, shouldn't we be more worried about why these kids are ending up at SiS rather than the techniques the care workers are using once they get there?
14:22 June 24, 2009 by Puffin
The trouble is the staff not following rules - isolation cells can be used for certain situations but were being used for other reasons
15:41 June 24, 2009 by Holecutter > The Howl From Hell
Old sparky would solve the problem, and on the plus side.......less brats = less money the tax payer has to fork out to house these little scumbags.
22:10 June 24, 2009 by DAVID T
Bring back corporal punishment - a few whacks with the cane would soon sort the little bas****s out
23:10 June 24, 2009 by Shark99 - The Great Catsby
LOL, somebody always brings up Old Sparky.
09:00 June 29, 2009 by dtes
isolation cells make a person think, ive been in one, i dont think its a bad way to make a person reflect on circumstances, the question is WHO, just WHO should have the power to be able to do this to a child, i dont think that some nutless corrections officer with a power trip should and thats for sure. those folks need strickt testing to be sure they are not the s&m type character, replace the whole system i say, but start by getting rid of everyones tv and religion, and knock down all the rulers to an equal level as everyone else, i think that will start a change for the better.
10:58 June 29, 2009 by jack sprat
Excellent post JD and all very true.

I always believed that UK kids were the Worlds worst behaved, but I must admit to being amazed at some of the things allowed to go on here.

I once came across a girl trying to beat up her Mother who was in a wheelchair, in a shopping area.

People were just walking by and totally ignoring it, as seems to be the norm here.

Suffice to say I put a stop to it as best I could...Had it not been in a public place I fear my reaction may have been quite a bit stronger.

How the teachers manage to do their jobs without beating the little brats to a pulp I will never understand.

However most of the teachers I know here tell me that todays parents are almost as bad as their kids and their little Johnny So and so is a good little lad and should be allowed to do whatever the hell he likes.

I think that controlling kids in the way suggested is at least one move in the right direction.
13:52 June 29, 2009 by Streja
Stripping teachers are outlawed????!!! Damn! There goes my second income!
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