After settling a lawsuit by hunger-striking inmates, California prisons are reducing the use of solitary confinement. Unfortunately, this settlement does not account for juveniles and there has been difficulty passing a proposal that restricts isolation for adolescent offenders.
Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco is attempting to move a bill forward that will restrict solitary confinement to four hours at a time for juveniles. The bill provides that confinement should only be used if an inmate threatens the safety of the institution or themselves.
This is not the first time Leno has tried to pass a bill similar to this. Leno's SB124 bill, which was cleared in the Senate in June died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where opponents rejected the need of millions of dollars the program was seeking for funding. This time around Leno has lined up the support of Sarah Shroud, who spent 410 in solitary confinement in Iran after she was taken captive by an Iranian border guard in July 2009.
Shroud believes that the aftereffects of solitary confinement lasts for years and reduces humans to an animal-like state. She has become an activist against solitary confinement and feels strongly that it should be eliminated in every instance.
Civil rights groups and defense attorneys are also supporting Leno's measure, which is planned to be introduced in January. It is expected that opposition will most likely come from local probation officers, because they objected to Leno's last bill.
Before the settlement that reduces solitary confinement in adult prisons, thousands of inmates were held in isolation and sometimes for decades at a time. The inmates are held in concrete cells for 22 hours a day or more, fed through slots, and are prevented from job training and other programs.
Leno said that youths are more susceptible to the psychological harm that solitary confinement leads to, including suicide. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio banned solitary confinement for inmates under 21 after a 22-year-old inmate who had spent three years in jail, mostly in solitary confinement committed suicide.
Leno's bill would ban solitary confinement as punishment for juveniles and set statewide standards for confinement orders.