Children in the care of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are sometimes placed in solitary confinement because the youth has proven himself to be dangerous to himself and others and needs to be separated for a period of time from others to teach the offender a lesson. Short periods of isolation may give teens time to think about their negative behavior patterns, but prolonged solitary confinement is abusive.
According to a February 7, 2016 editorial in the Los Angeles Daily News, Jessica Keating, Opinion Editor, wrote, “A practice so powerful that it can cause lasting mental health issues, trigger depression or worsen exiting mental illness should not be used on youth.”
President Obama agrees. In January 2016 the President banned the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody. In an op-ed piece, the President said, “How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.”
California legislators aren’t as enlightened as our President. Last year Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco proposed to legally end the damaging practice of solitary confinement for children. However, the Assembly appropriations committee put Senate Bill 124, Leno’s proposal, on hold. Leno has argued that SB124 would protect youth inmates in county and state facilities from the inhumane practice of isolation.
California probation officers feel that the legislation proposes rigid rules and could endanger the very youth they are designed to protect.
As a parent and educator this writer knows the strong affect that solitary confinement has on children. Five to ten minutes of alone time does wonders moderating a child’s behavior. If a teen acts abusive toward his peers a four-hour time out would be helpful to change his behavior. But throwing a kid into a cage for weeks, months, or years is barbaric.
Here’s a recent example of this barbarism. One youth with special needs was placed in solitary confinement for more than 100 days and suffered a psychotic breakdown. A 2013 lawsuit against Contra Costa County, where he was held, forced officials to end this practice.
Psychology Professor Craig Hanley from the University of California Santa Cruz says that solitary confinement is especially harmful to young offenders because their brains are not fully developed and the experience could damage that process.
Solitary confinement may help the guards at prisons maintain greater control over the inmates, but the punishment tends to produce more volatile prisoners than when they were first incarcerated.
Does that make sense? Please write to your state legislator today to revive Senate Bill 124 and stop the solitary confinement of our children.