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

Contact: 
Zaineb Mohammed, Communications Manager, Zaineb@ellabakercenter.org, 630-921-1741
Emily Harris, State Field Director, Emily@ellabakercenter.org, 510-285-8231

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

Yesterday, the Contra Costa County Probation Department agreed to end its use of solitary confinement for all youth detained in Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall.

Advocates hope that this groundbreaking victory for youth and their families will create momentum for the passage of Senate Bill 124, legislation introduced earlier this year by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) that would limit and regulate the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities throughout California.

“Clearly, there is need for statewide reform on the use of solitary confinement within California’s juvenile correctional facilities, and that’s exactly what Senate Bill 124 would do,” said Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. “No county or state facility should deliberately deprive incarcerated young people of human contact, education, exercise and fresh air for extended periods of time. This type of discipline is inhumane and can have devastating psychological effects for troubled youth who are already vulnerable to depression and suicide.”

The decision in Contra Costa County was reached as part of a settlement with Disability Rights Advocates and Public Counsel, whose lawsuit against the juvenile hall alleged that young people with disabilities were locked in tiny cells which had barely enough room for a bed for up to 23 hours a day.

“For years, people in solitary and their families have called attention to the damaging health effects of solitary confinement. Contra Costa County's settlement to end the solitary confinement of youth demonstrates that juvenile facilities can and must end their reliance on harmful isolation,” said Jennifer Kim, the Director of Programs at the Ella Baker Center, which is co-sponsoring state legislation to limit the use of isolation in California’s youth prisons. “With Senate Bill 124 we will ensure that every young person in every county across California will have the same protections from this abusive practice.”

Along with Youth Justice Coalition, Children’s Defense Fund-CA, and California Public Defenders Association, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights co-sponsored SB 124, which would limit 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 would require that a person only be held in solitary confinement for the minimum time necessary to address that risk. 

In addition to limiting the use of solitary confinement, the bill will also provide a uniform definition of the practice and require statewide reporting of its use in juvenile facilities.

Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth, their families, and advocates hope that Contra Costa County’s decision will serve as a model for the rest of the state, as well as the country, as we move away from spending resources on inhumane practices like solitary confinement and prioritize funding services and programs that help young people heal.

For more information about Senate Bill 124, please see our press release.

For more information about the Contra Costa County settlement, please read the press release and the full settlement agreement.

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