Home News Center Colorado, Los Angeles Set Serious Restrictions on Solitary Confinement of Youth

Colorado, Los Angeles Set Serious Restrictions on Solitary Confinement of Youth

May 31, 2016
Zoe Schein

Colorado recently passed a bill approving increased restrictions on the use of solitary confinement for  young people in custody. H.B. 1328 will primarily do three things:

  1. Create time limits around the use of solitary to ensure that it is not overused, including checks every 15 minutes; a 1-hour notification requirement for the facility director; require approval by the director of the Division of Youth Corrections (DYC) to hold a youth in isolation longer than 4 hours; and require a court order to hold a young person in solitary for more than 8 hours in a two-day period.
  2. Create documentation and reporting requirements to monitor the use of solitary on young people.
  3. Create a working group to review the data and reports on the use of solitary, and make recommendations to limit its use going forward.

The bill is the result of a collaborative investigation conducted by the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center (CJDC), an NJJN member, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado (ACLU-CO) and Disability Law Colorado. “We were getting reports that solitary was being overused in the youth facilities,” said Elise Logemann, executive director of CJDC. “Our investigation showed that to be true – we found that [the Division of Youth Corrections] was isolating young people for long periods of time: days, sometimes weeks, and in one case over a month. There was already a law in Colorado that solitary confinement was only supposed to be used in the case of an ongoing emergency, but clearly that wasn’t what was happening.”

The organizations met with the Division of Youth Corrections and worked together to create a new policy – which mirrors the changes included in H.B. 1328. “The policy came out in October of 2015, so this bill really serves to codify those reforms, to protect them in case of things like changing leadership at DYC,” said Logemann. “We’ve already seen the use of solitary confinement go down since our 2014 investigation, but this bill will ensure that we don’t move backwards again.”

The bill has been approved by Colorado’s House and Senate, and awaits the governor’s signature. 

Update: The bill was signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper on June 10, 2016. 

Los Angeles
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on May 3, 2016 to permanently ban the use of solitary confinement for youth throughout the county (S.B. 1143). The motion was developed and fought for through years of organizing and advocacy led by NJJN member Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) along with the Children's Defense Fund (CDF).   LA County is home to the nation’s largest youth justice system, with approximately 1,200 youth housed in out-of-home placement. The ban, which allows for the use of brief periods of isolation only in extreme cases, reflects an established consensus that solitary confinement of youth does more harm than good; isolation can dramatically increase a young person’s risk of suicide, can increase the likelihood that a young person will be rearrested, and can cause lasting psychological damage.

Francisco Martinez, member of YJC, wrote of his experience of solitary:

“I was only 17 when I experienced solitary confinement in LA County juvenile hall.  The conditions were a small concrete dirty room.  The walls were covered in dirt and dried up spit, smeared food, tagging on the walls on the bars of the bed, covering the windows. We were kept in our boxers with a tee shirt and socks, and a thin blanket. 

My life could have been way different if they had done something different.  Like having drug and alcohol classes, communication classes on how to express yourself to family and friends. Instead, being alone for so long, it’s hard to know how to interact, you don’t know how to start a conversation.  You feel that it’s not normal, or not right, to be with other people.

I am a youth that experienced firsthand what solitary confinement does to you.  I don’t wish this on anybody.”

Martinez also described experiencing asthma attacks as a result of constant air-conditioning, and the overwhelming difficulty of accessing medical care, as well as the crushing psychological effects of solitude and inactivity, which he described as “traumatizing.” (Read the full text of Francisco Martinez's testimony in support of S.B. 1143 here.) 

“Solitary confinement is a very harmful and ineffective practice,” said David Muhammad, Director of the California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice (an NJJN member). “We commend the LA Board of Supervisors for making the right decision and showing strong leadership in ending this archaic practice. Youth and staff will now be safer.” 

Currently, YJC and CDF are co-sponsoring a state bill with Ella Baker Center and the Pacific Juvenile Defender's Center that aims to set similar restrictions on the solitary confinement of youth statewide.


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