Seeking to end solitary confinement of children in New Jersey juvenile detention centers, civil rights organizations on Monday filed a petition with the state proposing new limits on what they say is a psychologically damaging – and poorly regulated – form of discipline.

Led by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, nine groups are pushing for changes to the rules governing juvenile detention centers, including eliminating the state’s authority to hold children for up to five days in solitary confinement as punishment or pending a disciplinary hearing.

The petition cites an “emerging body of social scientific literature” about the harmful effects of solitary confinement – particularly on young people – and a movement nationwide to eliminate or restrict the practice.In New Jersey, state officials have released no data on the numbers of children being held in isolation in detention centers.

But the groups behind the petition say the practice is common, often administered arbitrarily – and sometimes with devastating consequences.One boy, in trouble for stealing a bicycle, hung himself some years ago after he was placed in an isolation cell, said Bonnie Kerness of the American Friends Service Committee, one of the groups that signed the petition.