Resources & Media

The Fight to End Juvenile Solitary Confinement is Not Yet Over

October Newsletter
October 30, 2015
Bend the Arc

Photo: Steve Liss - AmericanPoverty.orgWhen last we updated you on SB124, a bill introduced in California to end solitary confinement for juveniles, we had just reached an important milestone. With less than 24 hours left before a pivotal vote in the Public Safety Committee, Bend the Arc activists in California acted to sway two Committee members to vote yes on the legislation and push the bill forward. It was yet another example of how our grassroots leaders can effectively influence key progressive legislation.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. In August, SB124 was stalled when leadership of the Assembly Appropriations committee declined to move the bill to a vote. As such, when Governor Brown signed the last round of bills into effect for 2015, SB124 remained sidelined. We are now working with our partners to evaluate options to pass the bill when the next session convenes in the spring.

As a quick recap, SB124 would have reformed the current law in place by:

  • Clearly defining solitary confinement as the placement of a person in a locked room or cell alone with minimal or no contact.

  • Limiting the maximum amount of time a person can be held to no more than four hours.

  • Prohibiting a person who is a danger to himself, herself, or others as a result of a mental disorder, or who is gravely disabled, from being subject to solitary confinement.

  • Empowering existing county juvenile justice commissions to report on the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.

The bill was stalled in large part to its opponents claiming that its cost would be too onerous — a fact that simply isn’t true. In actuality, SB124 would save counties millions of dollars by avoiding costly litigation, funds which could then be reinvested into communities.

Of course, this isn’t about the financial cost alone. There is a terrible moral and human cost associated with the continued, pervasive use of solitary confinement destroying the lives of youth. Over 62% of youth who commit suicide while incarcerated have been held in solitary — what monetary value can we put on literally saving a life? As the wisdom of our tradition teaches, saving a single life is akin to saving the entire world.

The fight for comprehensive criminal justice reform is far from over and our partners in this battle have asked for supporters in California to contact their Assemblymember and express their disappointment in the failure to pass SB124. By doing so, we will be letting decision makers know that we expect to see concrete and substantial changes to inhumane youth incarceration practices in 2016.