California Restricts Use of Solitary Confinement Practices at Juvenile Facilities

California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation yesterday that will restrict the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities in the state, capping a lengthy legislative effort by advocates to curb the practice.

Put forward by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), Senate Bill 1143 bars the use of room confinement and isolation (as the legislation refers to solitary confinement) for purposes of punishment, retaliation or coercion of minor detainees in California juvenile facilities.

Now, staff members at detention facilities like juvenile halls and camps can use room confinement only when other, less restrictive measures have already been employed. Under the new law, room confinement must be limited to four hours and cannot be used in a way that harms the mental and physical health of the youth in detention.

The negative socioemotional consequences of solitary confinement on juveniles has received widespread national attention in recent years, leading to a rising number of jurisdictions either outlawing or severely restricting the practice.

In January, President Barack Obama banned solitary confinement for minors in federal prisons, though the move was largely symbolic. Nineteen other states have enacted restrictions on the use of isolation for juveniles in detention. New York City has curbed the use of solitary confinement for all inmates under the age of 21 at the Rikers Island jail. In May, Los Angeles County restricted the use of isolation practices at its three juvenile halls and 13 camps.

SB 1143 succeeded where several other legislative efforts had failed in recent years. This was the fifth consecutive year that bills aimed at ending solitary confinement had been introduced in the California legislature. This year, however, support from the Chief Probation Officers of California proved to be a key part of achieving success.

The law will go into effect across the state on January 1, 2017.

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John Kelly
About John Kelly 1115 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.

1 Comment

  1. This is wonderful news! It is especially exciting to hear that this initiative was supported by the Chief Probation Officers. There is so much more that can get done when people can work together and have conversations. Even when there is disagreement, it is possible for good people to find common ground.

    I think most of us learn more from people with different experiences and viewpoints than we do from people who we immediately agree with. It is hard to learn and grow when everyone already agrees and has had the same training or experience.

    We can learn a lot from people who are different from us in some way. When dialogue can happen respectfully, people may feel free to agree to disagree when consensus on some issues is impossible. But with respectful dialogue it is also possible for everyone to learn and grow and find common ground for even more helpful innovative ideas than either group started with.

    The more that advocates can learn from people in corrections (and similar fields) and people in corrections can learn from other groups the likelier it will be that positive changes will happen.

    It is possible for very good people to hold completely contradictory opinions on all sorts of things but still deeply respect one another. And when people sincerely dialogue it is often possible to find some common ground that may be far better than what either group could have envisioned alone. We are all stronger together.

    This news is so exciting and will hopefully help many young people to get the human contact and support they need to live positive lives.

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