This past Tuesday, May 4, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a measure that improves the quality and integrity of our juvenile criminal justice system by banning the use of solitary confinement in the County’s juvenile detention facilities.The motion was passed with unanimous support. The interim Chief of Probation, Cal Remington, called the new measure not just a change in policy, but a change in culture.
Studies have shown that solitary confinement is not only an ineffective means of punishment, but it also creates a high risk of physical and psychological harm to those so incarcerated. Youth in solitary confinement have higher rates of suicide; some studies indicate that as many as 50 percent of youth who commit suicide while incarcerated were in solitary confinement at the time of death.
Because juveniles’ brains are still developing, the negative psychological impact of solitary confinement on juveniles is particularly pernicious. Teenage minds, especially those of juveniles in the justice system who have already been subject to unusually high stress, are less equipped to cope with trauma. Solitary confinement has been shown to only exacerbate juvenile mental health issues, creating a vicious cycle of negative conduct.
Los Angeles County has one of the largest juvenile justice systems in the United States. Close to 1200 youth are housed in its detention facilities. The ban on solitary confinement only applies to juveniles in Los Angeles County and is not a change in state law. However, other counties or the state itself could follow LA County’s direction and implement a similar order.
The new rule does not completely ban the use of solitary confinement, but severely restricts its application to very limited circumstances: when a youth poses a serious risk to his or her self and others, he or she can be separated for a short period of time.
According to reports, the new rule is to be implemented by September 2016. Changes, however, are expected to begin in some facilities this month.
Katie Walsh is an attorney in Orange County, California. Attorney Walsh concentrates her law practice on juvenile defense, criminal defense, and victim’s rights.
Contact the Law Offices of Katie Walsh online or at (714) 619-9355.