Krista Carlson, now a Lincoln attorney, was 14 and pregnant when her 23-year-old boyfriend drove her to the country and kicked her out of the car. 

Abandoned by her boyfriend and parents, she ended up at a Christian children's ranch. When she couldn't stop crying, she was sent to solitary confinement, locked on a porch for six weeks. 

"When you're there, alone, given nothing to read, given nothing to do and no one to talk to, you think about suicide a lot, suicide or escape," she said Wednesday.

She became distrustful, fearful and angry. Even now, 23 years later, she feels the effects and has recurring bad dreams about that time, she said. But she recovered as much as she could, coming a long way to a law practice and building a family. But those memories and conditioning will always persist, Carlson said. 

Diane Marti, president-elect of the Nebraska Psychological Association, said her son, who is 35 now, was in trouble as a 14-year-old and put in isolation for three weeks. It changed his path from his aspirations to be a lawyer. 

There's no doubt something is needed to keep kids safe when they're out of control, but to isolate them for extended times can be damaging and traumatic, she said.  

People who had been put into solitary confinement in detention or psychiatric centers as youths shared their stories with the Legislature's Judiciary Committee during a hearing on a bill (LB870) introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks.

It would ban the use of juvenile room confinement, except when necessary to eliminate substantial and immediate risk of harm, and require that a juvenile be released from room confinement as soon as the risk of harm is resolved.

"This bill is 20 years too late, as I see it," Marti said.  

Pansing Brooks said the objective of the bill was to ensure humane treatment and better outcomes for children in detention. 

The bill is a step toward ensuring kids don't come out of detention and youth treatment centers worse off than when they went in, said Juliet Summers of Voices for Children in Nebraska. The psychological effects of solitary confinement are magnified for children and youth whose brains are still developing, she said. 

A number of people who work at detention and youth treatment centers testified against the bill. 

Ralph Healey, who works at the Kearney Youth Treatment and Rehabilitation Center, said he wasn't opposed to the idea of eliminating solitary confinement. But he's concerned about the difficult youth sent to Kearney and the injuries sustained by staff from youth assaults. 

Youth who assault staff or other youth face no consequences other than staying at the center. 

"We have no support right now," he said.

And unless the bill is updated with a framework to help protect the staff, it will cause a lot of trouble, he said. 

Other states that have passed similar bills put a framework in place to help staff at these detention and rehabilitation centers, he said. 

Morgan Dority, with Lancaster County Youth Services Center, said youth continue to push and challenge, and may assault their peers and staff, knowing they will be put in their rooms for an hour or less. Since 2016, youth-on-youth assaults have risen by 40 percent, and youth-on-staff assaults have risen 42 percent. 

Some youths are extremely violent, unpredictable and apathetic, she said. In October, five detention officers were assaulted by multiple youths. One staff member has had multiple surgeries as a result. 

When all other interventions have failed, the last resort is time out, she said. Rarely are youths placed in their rooms more than an hour. They are checked on every 15 minutes. 

The bill would remove an intervention only used to provide safety and security, Dority said. 

Pansing Brooks said the bill allows for staff assaults to be a reason for confinement. But the fact is, some centers overuse isolation when there are alternatives that could be used, she added. 

"I'm happy to talk about a framework," she said. "I'm happy to move forward and figure out what we can do." 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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