By Trey Bundy.
Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall no longer will keep youths in solitary confinement, according to a court settlement announced Tuesday.
The move comes after a 2013 lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Advocates and Public Counsel accused the county’s Probation Department, which oversees the juvenile hall, of holding minors with mental health issues in prolonged isolation and depriving them of special education services. According to the suit, a 14-year-old girl diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was held in isolation for about 100 days.
“This is truly a landmark case,” said Laura Faer, an attorney at Public Counsel. “This sets Contra Costa up to be a model for how to ban solitary confinement.”
The agreement stipulates that youths in Contra Costa County will not be placed in solitary confinement as punishment or discipline. Instead, young offenders will be held in isolation only when they present an immediate danger to themselves or others. In such cases, the department will have to remove the youth from confinement after four hours and implement a specialized treatment program, which could include transferring the youth to a mental health facility.
Contra Costa County Chief Probation Officer Philip Kader told Reveal that his department had been working toward reducing juvenile isolation and increasing services for inmates months before the lawsuit was settled.
“We didn’t wait for this lawsuit to finish or try to negotiate,” he said, adding that the suit “left a sour taste in my mouth.” “We were already making changes. Why did they have to sue us to get to this point?”
Faer said what’s done is done.