Tell Governor Brown: Sign SB 1143! (Room Confinement / Ending Isolation in Youth Lock-ups)

SB 1143 Solitary think outside the cage

Thank you if you already sent a letter urging the Governor to sign SB 1143!

If you still haven’t had time to send a letter, please:

(1) E-MAIL THE GOVERNOR ASAP (leg.unit@gov.ca.gov)
and (2) e-mail us a copy, so we can make sure it gets recorded (action@youth4justice.org).
Use the sample below to send the Governor a letter of support from your organization, (group, coalition, house of worship, club, etc.) Below the letter is an infographic you can use in your outreach that highlights the impacts of room confinement, isolation and solitary confinement on youth.

(3) Send out this link to have people sign on to a petition that will go to the Governor:
www.credomobilize.com/…/end-the-long-term-isolation-of-yout…

(4) Share Tanisha Denard’s story about her experiences with isolation in an LA County juvenile hall.

I was arrested at school for getting in a fight and put on Probation. Whenever I was late to school, the police would be surrounding our campus giving out truancy tickets. Me and my mother couldn’t pay the $250 tickets that would go as high as $900 if left unpaid. After a few times getting tickets, my Probation was violated, and I was sent to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall.

From the time I entered the gate at juvenile hall, I felt anxious and hopeless. I remember the sound and sight of the big, bulky, metal wire gate opening up and then shutting behind me.

I took showers with a staff watching from the beginning to the end. And there was no curtain on the window, so I could also see male staff come around during showers for the whole time I was locked up.

For the first few days, I was very distant. I wouldn’t eat or go to the day room (a large room where you could sit with other people). I felt unsure and uncomfortable. But instead of trying to counsel me, the Probation staff just stopped talking to me – they even stopped asking if I wanted food or dayroom time. Even though I wasn’t on lock-down, I felt like I was in solitary confinement already. I guess the staff thought I was depressed, so then they just ignored me – and day after day, I had no cell mate, no dayroom time, no hope.

Even for people who weren’t on lock down, nights for everyone were also under lock-down conditions. From 8pm or 9pm until 6am, you are locked into a single person cell. The rooms are about 5 feet by ten feet with a metal door and a small shatter-proof window that you can see out of into a small part of the hall if you stand on your toes. With the exception of the door, the walls are all cinderblock, painted white. Some sections of the wall are covered in gang-related tagging and brown stains that look like smeared feces or blood. The air conditioning would be on full-blast. It was freezing. If you’re found with an extra blanket or sweatshirt, you are accused of having contraband and punished. We had no books or writing materials, so nights were endless – just you, your thoughts and the screams or crying of the young people in the cells next to you. The sheets and underwear were often stained with urine, blood and feces. People had to beg to use the restroom, were ignored or told to shut up, and were sometimes forced to pee on the floor or into a towel or sheet.

I felt completely unwanted and unnoticed. I started to feel tense when any of the guards came close to me, paranoid that I had done something wrong, when in reality, I had been by myself most of the day. It is by far the worst feeling I had ever experienced.

There were also girls in the unit who tried to kill themselves or cut themselves, and they were put in a locked cell. They had little or no human contact, except when they were brought food or the nurse brought some people their meds. I even know people who hid their meds in their mouth so they could save them up to get a stronger high.

I believe that the cruel and unusual punishment made it easier for the Probation Department to treat everyone in juvenile hall this way. Once you get used to locking a person in a cage, it becomes normal for you. You don’t notice how harmful it is, and these conditions start to spread throughout the facility.

Your family and the community expect that you are safe and unharmed. In reality you might be safe from other youth – but not from yourself. Being locked down makes you feel that you are worthless to society. You start to think about any way to escape – even if it means suicide. When I got home, I felt I had changed. My family could not believe my experience – and it constantly made me feel like I was a bad person. That feeling of hopelessness had only increased.

I think all young people in the juvenile hall deserve something better than a 23-hour cell. If we need to heal or calm down, the best thing would be to create a nature park, or have us work outside to grow food, or take vocational trainings so we are ready to start our lives over after release.

SB 1143 WILL ENSURE THAT YOUTH WHO ARE LOCKED UP IN COUNTY JUVENILE HALLS, PROBATION CAMPS AND RANCHES, OR STATE YOUTH PRISONS (DIVISION OF JUVENILE JUSTICE) ARE NO LONGER SUBJECT TO OVERUSE AND MISUSE OF LOCKED ROOM CONFINEMENT, INCLUDING ISOLATION FROM HUMAN CONTACT AND PROGRAMMING.

SB 1143:

1. Defines room confinement as the placement of a person in a sleeping room or cell alone with minimal contact from facility staff or attorneys, and does not include sleeping hours or confinement for brief periods of time necessary for institutional operations;

2. Provides that room confinement shall only be used after all less restrictive options have been attempted and exhausted (such as separating youth for a short cool-down period, verbal de-escalation tactics, building healthy relationships with staff and youth, restorative justice circles, counseling, and mental health and suicide intervention);

3. Provides that room confinement cannot be used to the extent that it compromises the mental and physical health of the person;

4. Provides that room confinement shall not be used for the purposes of punishment, coercion, convenience, or retaliation by staff; and

5. Limits room confinement to four hours, room confinement lasting beyond four hours requires an individualized plan, documentation, authorization and oversight.

SAMPLE LETTER:

Please print on your organization’s letterhead. Please Email to leg.unit@gov.ca.gov and also e-mail us a copy at action@youth4justice.org, so we can make sure it gets counted.

[DATE]

The Honorable Jerry Brown
State Capitol, 1173
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Brown:

On behalf of [NAME OF ORGANIZATION], I write in strong support for SB 1143 (authored by Senator Mark Leno), a bill that would set standards to severely limit the use of room confinement of youth in California’s juvenile lock-ups.

SB 1143 will set nationally recognized best standards into law regarding the use of room confinement in juvenile lock-ups. This bill is in keeping with efforts in several other states to limit the use of room confinement in favor of less restrictive options that have demonstrated greater success in promoting safety, improved youth outcomes, and greater protection of youth dignity and respect. Earlier this year, President Obama issued an executive directive to limit the use of isolation in federal juvenile facilities to a maximum of three hours, and to ban its use for the purposes of punishment or discipline. More than 20 states have banned the use of isolation for the purposes of punishment.

[PROVIDE A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF YOUR ORGANIZATION/GROUP AND WHY YOU CARE ABOUT THIS ISSUE].

SB 1143 will save the state by reducing recidivism, reducing costs associated with long-term mental health care for youth who may have been subjected to dangerously long periods of isolation, and reduce costly litigation that comes in the wake of a preventable tragedy. With your signature, California will be at the forefront of a national movement to protect human rights and promote public safety with pragmatic and workable policies to regulate the use of room confinement. For these reasons, we strongly support SB 1143 by Senator Leno, and strongly urge you to sign this bill into law.

Sincerely,

[SIGNATURE]
[NAME, TITLE]
[ORGANIZATION]

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