Leno Bill Limiting Use of Solitary Confinement in Juvenile Facilities Clears Senate

SACRAMENTO – Legislation that limits the use of solitary confinement at state and county juvenile correctional facilities passed the Senate today. Senate Bill 124, authored by Senator Mark Leno, creates statewide standards that encourage the use of less damaging and more effective disciplinary actions. The bill is similar to a settlement recently reached between Contra Costa County and disability rights advocates following allegations of solitary confinement abuses of special needs youth in that county’s juvenile hall.

“Solitary confinement is an extraordinarily harmful disciplinary measure that has no rehabilitative purpose whatsoever,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “It is inhumane to lock up young people in this way and deprive them of human contact, education, exercise and fresh air. This type of isolation is widely condemned and only exacerbates the problems troubled youth face. We must provide them with treatment, not prolonged isolation, if we want them to become future productive members of our communities.”

SB 124 defines solitary confinement and permits its use in juvenile correctional centers only when a person poses an immediate and substantial risk of harming others or threatening the security of the facility. The bill is co-sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, California Public Defenders Association, Youth Justice Coalition and Children’s Defense Fund-California. It is also supported by the Alameda and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and a large network of civil rights organizations, health and social workers, churches and legal justice groups.

"The Senate's passage of SB 124 brings us one step closer to ending the solitary confinement of youth, a damaging practice that has been shown to cause irreparable harm,” said Jennifer Kim, Director of Programs for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “In order to heal, youth need to receive proper treatment and be connected to their families and communities.”

A 2009 national survey connects the use of solitary confinement to 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.

“Experts agree that the practice of placing youth in solitary confinement can have lifelong negative psychological consequences because of their unique developmental needs,” said Martin Schwarz, a California Public Defenders Association Board Member. “With this bill, California joins a growing number of states who have restricted or abolished solitary confinement for children.”

"We applaud members of the Senate for their leadership in voting for SB 124 to protect our incarcerated youth from the trauma of solitary confinement," said Alex M. Johnson, Executive Director of the Children's Defense Fund-California. "SB 124 is a critical step toward ending the punitive incarceration model in juvenile justice facilities across the state.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, 19 states, including Connecticut and Oklahoma, ban solitary confinement for punitive reasons. Most recently, New York City banned the use of solitary confinement of youth 21 and younger. 

“California uses harsh, and often long-term solitary confinement in both its youth and adult institutions,” said Kim McGill, an organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition who has also experienced solitary confinement. “These practices are outdated and debilitating to a person’s physical, emotional and mental well-being.”

SB 124 will be heard in Assembly policy committees this summer.


# # #