Proposed bill aims to limit solitary confinement for juveniles

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A Bay Area legislator wants to put controls on placing young people in solitary confinement in youth detention centers.

Senator Mark Leno said it's cruel punishment, which does nothing to help those young people turn around their lives.

Leno is going to try again. The legislator has rejected similar legislation a number of times in the recent past.

A civil rights group and the United Nations is on record asking for a ban on all solitary confinement.

"In the early days and weeks it felt like being reduced to the state of an animal in a cage," prisoner rights advocate Sara Shourd said.

Shourd supports the legislation because she knows all about solitary confinement as she was held in solitary for 410 days by Iranians when she and two others were captured hiking near their border in 2009.

Deangelo Cortijo was put in solitary at juvenile hall when he was only 12 years old. "Sometimes I would completely lose it and on several occasions, I contemplated taking my own life," he said.

Youths can still be placed in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours daily for months at a time.

Under Leno's bill, they can only be held in solitary up to four hours at a time and only if they threaten the safety of the facility or themselves.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said research shows juveniles are prone to psychological effects in isolation. "When they come out, they're less likely to rehabilitate themselves. They're more likely to re-offend or self-destruct," Gascon said.

A similar bill died in committee this Summer after state probation officers argued it would cost counties millions of dollars more because of increased staffing.

They released a statement to ABC7 News saying: "Some gang members for instance are determined to have physical altercations and four hours in their room alone may not be enough time, they'd go back and engage in the disturbance again."

Leno plans to introduce his bill in January.
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