A bill by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) aims to reduce the practice of sending detainees under age 18 to solitary confinement, in part by making reports about such placements public records.

SB 124, now facing its final hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, would ban solitary confinement altogether for juveniles who are dangerous to themselves or other because of a mental disorder, or who are gravely disabled.  It would limit solitary confinement of other dangerous juveniles “only for the minimum time required to address the risk, and that does not compromise the mental and physical health of the person, but no longer than four hours,” as summarized by the Legislative Counsel.

The bill also provides two public awareness safeguards. The first reads:

For each incident when solitary confinement is used, each local and state juvenile facility shall document the usage of solitary confinement, including all of the following:
(1) The name, age, gender, and race of the person subject to solitary confinement.
(2) The date and time the person was placed in solitary confinement.
(3) The date and time the person was released from solitary confinement.
(4) The name and position of person authorizing the placement of the person in solitary confinement.
(5) The names of staff involved in the incident leading to the use of solitary confinement.
(6) A description of circumstances leading to use of solitary confinement.
(7) A description of alternative actions and sanctions attempted and found unsuccessful.
(8) The dates and times when staff checked in on the person when he or she was in solitary confinement, and the person’s behavior during the check.

This documentation, stripped of individuals’ identifying information, would be accessible as a public record.

The second disclosure provision reads:

A juvenile justice commission shall annually inspect any jail, lockup, or facility within the county that, in the preceding calendar year, was used for confinement for more than 24 hours of any minor. As a part of the annual inspection, a juvenile justice commission shall review the records of the jail, lockup, or facility relating to the use of solitary confinement . . . The commission shall report the results of the inspection, together with its recommendations based thereon, in writing, to the juvenile court, the county board of supervisors, and to the Board of State and Community Corrections. The report shall be presented annually as part of a regularly scheduled public meeting of the county board of supervisors, and may be published on the county government’s Internet Web site.

Senator Leno’s press release at the time he introduced the bill provides a disturbing picture of the permanent damage done to minors by excessive solitary confinement.  Leno commented:

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. 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.