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California State Legislature: Amend and reintroduce SB 1363 into California’s 2013 Legislative Session

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Every day, in jails and prisons across the United States, young people under the age of 18 are held in solitary confinement. They spend 22 or more hours each day alone, usually in a small cell behind a solid steel door, completely isolated both physically and socially, often for days, weeks, or even months on end. Sometimes there is a window allowing natural light to enter or a view of the world outside cell walls. Sometimes it is possible to communicate by yelling to other inmates, with voices distorted, reverberating against concrete and metal. Occasionally, they get a book or bible, and if they are lucky, study materials. But inside this cramped space, few contours distinguish one hour, one day, week, or one month, from the next.

This bare social and physical existence makes many young people feel doomed and abandoned, or in some cases, suicidal, and can lead to serious physical and emotional consequences. Adolescents in solitary confinement describe cutting themselves with staples or razors, hallucinations, losing control of themselves, or losing touch with reality while isolated. They talk about only being allowed to exercise in small metal cages, alone, a few times a week; about being prevented from going to school or participating in any activity that promotes growth or change. Some say the hardest part is not being able to hug their mother or father.

The solitary confinement of adults can cause serious pain and suffering and can violate international human rights and US constitutional law. But the potential damage to young people, who do not have the maturity of an adult and are at a particularly vulnerable, formative stage of life, is much greater. Experts assert that young people are psychologically unable to handle solitary confinement with the resilience of an adult. And, because they are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow. Solitary confinement can exacerbate, or make more likely, short and long-term mental health problems. The most common deprivation that accompanies solitary confinement, denial of physical exercise, is physically harmful to adolescents’ health and well-being.

Henry R., who entered prison at age 14, shared his experience while in solitary confinement with Human Rights Watch in April 2012: “The only thing left to do is go crazy—just sit and talk to the walls.… I catch myself [talking to the walls] every now and again. It’s starting to become a habit because I have nothing else to do. I can’t read a book. I work out and try to make the best of it. But there is no best. Sometimes I go crazy and can’t even control my anger anymore.… I can’t even get [out of solitary confinement] early if I do better, so it is frustrating and I just lose it. Screaming, throwing stuff around.… I feel like I am alone, like no one cares about me—sometimes I feel like, why am I even living?”

Solitary confinement of youth is itself a serious human rights violation and can constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under international human rights law. In addition, the conditions that compound the harm of solitary confinement (such as lack of psychological care, physical exercise, family contact, and education) often constitute independent, concurrent, and serious human rights violations. Solitary confinement cannot be squared with the special status of adolescents under US constitutional law regarding crime and punishment. While not unusual, it turns the detention of young people in adult jails and prisons into an experience of unquestionable cruelty. It is time for the United States to abolish the solitary confinement of young people. State and federal lawmakers, as well as other appropriate officials, should immediately embark on a review of the laws, policies, and practices that result in young people being held in solitary confinement, with the goal of definitively ending this practice. Rather than being banished to grow up locked down in isolation, incarcerated adolescents must be treated with humanity and dignity and guaranteed the ability to grow, to be rehabilitated, and to reenter society.

SB 1363, introduced in the last legislative session by Senator Yee (CA) places strict regulations on the use of solitary confinement with incarcerated juveniles, while ensuring the physical and mental health of the juvenile.  Unfortunately, SB 1363 didn't pass the Senate Public Safety Committee and did not become law.  Please sign this petition to encourage Senator Yee to reintroduce this legislation.  Let's make CA a leader in stopping the solitary confinement of youth.

See this source for more info: The Human Rights Watch & American Civil Liberties Union Report, titled Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States. Read more at: http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/us1012ForUpload.pdf

 



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