Big changes in solitary confinement for California's juvenile halls

SB 124 changes solitary confinement for juvenile halls. (Nov. 3, 2016)

At Sacramento's Youth Detention Facility there is no room for solitary confinement, so if a kid acts up and gets in trouble they go back to the room where they live and where they sleep.

The facility isn't Disneyland for bad kids, but it isn't your average "juvie."

"What these kids need is normalcy to some degree," Assistant Chief Probation Officer Mike Shores said.

He oversees the facility and thinks programming can make kids change and not come back.

"I think we are doing some really innovative and unique things, "Shores said. "I cant speak for all the juvenile halls across the state or the country but what we are trying to do is just do good work with kids."

As he walked us through the facility, a guest speaker was talking to a gymnasium full of kids. After that we visited a garden program and the Boys and Girls Club.

"There are a lot of things that we do, that are really pro-social, lets us just keep a kid active. Ideally it's fun and educational, ultimately it's something that they can learn while they are here and will change their behavior," Shores told us.

The facility has so many programs going on at the same time, Shores said it is hard to keep track. From raising crops to training dogs, the staff thinks teaching empathy and responsibility is crucial. Shores said evidence shows being punitive toward adolescents doesn't work, but rewards do.

The facility can hold up to 224 boys and girls. Shores said it is difficult to track if this idea of taking away freedom and replacing it with positive activities to change behavior works, but he thinks it does because less kids are returning.

While Shores believes in his program, he says the facility is still a juvenile hall, and that if the kids want the incentives offered, they have to follow the rules.

Taking away fun programs and other methods of discipline are used before a juvenile is put in confinement or a locked room. But if a juvenile is violent and uncontrollable, solitary is necessary. Shores said they can be there for up to 24 hours, but it is rare.

In 2010 average room confinement for a juvenile at Sacramento's YDF was 125 hours a month and now it is 15 hours. With Gov. Brown signing SB 124 making max solitary confinement time max out at four hours, it might be more like a 'time out.'

Shores said the transition will be easy for them.

"The policy changes we made really sets us up well ahead to be in compliance with the law," Shores said.

Not YDF in California is the same, 2018 will be the test if doing without solitary for juveniles will work. 

Copyright 2016 KXTV


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