Governor Brown Signs Landmark Bill Restricting Room Confinement for Children

After a four year journey through the California Legislature, a bill significantly restricting the use of locked room confinement in juvenile facilities was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 27, 2016.  The legislation, Senate Bill 1143 (Leno) was spearheaded by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.  PJDC worked closely with the Center and a broad-based group of advocacy organizations to shed light on the harm caused by imposing locked room confinement and the need to provide clear guidelines to facility staff.  Earlier this year, the Chief Probation Officers of California joined forces with the proponents of the bill, and this was enormously helpful in getting the bill successfully through to signature.

Over the past few years, there has been increasing evidence that the use of locked room time is harmful to young people.  Thus, a large proportion of suicides in juvenile facilities are by youth who were on suicide watch or disciplinary room confinement.  Jurisdictions around the country are beginning to take steps to curtail room confinement and to provide guidance to juvenile facility professionals.  Earlier this year, President Obama banned the long-term isolation of youth in federal detention facilities.

Senate Bill 1143 provides a uniform definition of “room confinement” as the placement of a youth in a sleeping room or cell alone with minimal contact from facility staff.  It limits room confinement to 4 hours in most circumstances, and provides that it shall only be used after all less restrictive options have been exhausted.  It is not to be used in situations in which it compromises the mental and physical health of the young person, and may not be used for the purposes of punishment, coercion, convenience, or retaliation by staff.  At the same time, the legislation recognizes and permits that short periods of room confinement are needed in the daily operations of the juvenile facility, and in emergency situations.

The co-sponsors of the bill include the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Youth Justice Coalition, California Public Defenders Association,  Children’s Defense Fund-CA,  Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice—Bay Area, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, PJDC, and the Chief Probation Officers of California.

The text of the bill is posted on the California Legislative web site: