Los Angeles county acts to ban solitary for juveniles

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Los Angeles County supervisors have voted to ban the use of most solitary confinement in juvenile halls and camps.
Los Angeles County supervisors have voted to ban the use of most solitary confinement in juvenile halls and camps.

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to ban most solitary confinement at juvenile halls and camps after backers said the practice is harmful and unproductive.

The unanimous vote ordered the county's Probation Department to end the use of solitary at three juvenile halls and 13 camps by September except for rare and brief "cooling-down" sessions. Central Juvenile Hall and two camps will stop using it this month.

Research has shown that isolating youngsters "can cause lasting physical and psychological harm and actually increase recidivism without any benefit to public safety," Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored the motion, said in a statement. "Solitary is not rehabilitation and we have to use it very rarely and apply it fairly."

"It is our duty to help heal these traumatized adolescents, so that they can truly rejoin our communities - not just prime the prison pipeline," co-author and board chair Hilda L. Solis said.

Some speakers told the board that they were held for hours and even weeks at a time in solitary as teenagers.

Francisco Martines, 22, said he was kept for six weeks in a dirty, chilly room when he was 17 and suffered an asthma attack.

"It was horrible, like an animal in a cage," Martines said.

Alex Sanchez, a former gang member, said he once tried to break a finger to be released from solitary confinement.

The Probation Department, which oversees about 1,200 juvenile offenders, is committed to ending solitary confinement except as a short-term response when youngsters pose a serious risk to themselves or others, such as last weekend when 17 youths got into a fight at one facility, said Calvin Remington, the county's interim chief probation officer.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia ban solitary confinement of youngsters and earlier this year President Obama banned the practice for juveniles in federal custody.

A bill introduced in the California Legislature this year by state Sen. Mark Leno would limit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles. Several previous measures failed.