New Bill Limits Use of Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Facilities

Sacramento, CA –Senator Mark Leno introduced legislation today that would limit the use of solitary confinement in state and county juvenile correctional facilities in California. The Ella Baker Center, along with Youth Justice Coalition, Children’s Defense Fund-CA, and California Public Defenders Association, co-sponsored the bill.

Despite being widely condemned as torture, solitary confinement remains overused in California state and local juvenile justice systems. For example, 2011 court documents report 249 incidents of solitary confinement during a 14-week period at five juvenile facilities. In addition, youth at one facility were only allowed out of solitary confinement for an average of 40 minutes per day.

“Deliberately depriving incarcerated young people of human contact, education, exercise and fresh air is inhumane and can have devastating psychological effects for these youth, who are already vulnerable to depression and suicide,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “This type of severe segregation, even if temporary, must be reserved for the most extreme cases in which the young people are in danger of jeopardizing their own safety or that of facility personnel. Troubled youth need treatment, not isolation, if we want them to avoid a future life of crime and become productive members of society.”

Senate Bill 124 provides a uniform definition of solitary confinement, limits the use of solitary confinement to when a person poses an immediate and substantial risk of harm to others or to the security of the facility, and requires that a person only be held in solitary confinement for the minimum time necessary to address that risk. Additionally, the bill requires statewide reporting of the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities, and protections are provided for persons with suicidal or self-harming behavior.

“Throughout our long history of fighting abuses within the state’s juvenile justice system, we have witnessed how solitary confinement causes irrevocable damage to youth,” said Jennifer Kim, the Ella Baker Center’s Policy Director. “By limiting this abusive practice, this bill offers a critical opportunity for the juvenile justice system to move closer to meeting its goals of providing treatment and rehabilitation.”

Solitary confinement has been shown to increase recidivism, endanger mental health, and increase risk of suicide. About half of young people in the juvenile justice system who committed suicide were isolated and alone when they died. In addition, more than 10 percent of young people in juvenile facilities who committed suicide had been in solitary confinement in the past.

Instead of spending our resources on inhumane practices like solitary confinement, which do not make our communities safer, we should fund services and programs that would connect youth to their families and neighborhoods and help them heal.

“My godson was incarcerated for almost 10 years since the age of 15. His time in solitary confinement hurt him the most, and I was worried the damage would be permanent,” said LaNita Mitchell, board member of the Ella Baker Center and founder of Mothers of Many Sons, a Lakewood support group for mothers with incarcerated loved ones. “Our children need help, not torture,” she said.

Six states ban solitary confinement for punitive reasons and recently New York banned the use of solitary confinement of youth 21 and younger.

The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights seeks to end the cycle of criminalization and mass incarceration faced primarily by low-income communities of color by moving funding away from prisons and punishment and towards education, job training, and healthcare. By limiting the abusive practice of solitary confinement, we will move one step closer to achieving that mission.

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Contra Costa County Bans Solitary Confinement of Youth as Vote Nears to Limit the Isolation of Youth in Juvenile Facilities Across California

Press Hits:

Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall to End Use of Solitary Confinement - East Bay Express
Drummond: Move to End Youth Solitary Confinement a Good Thing - Oakland Tribune
Legislation Seeks to End Isolation in Juvenile Facilities - San Diego CityBeat
Senator Mark Leno Proposes Limits on Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Facilities - East Bay Express
Discontinuing Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Facilities - The Chronicle of Social Change