Lots of things moving in the right direction in the world of solitary confinement. For one thing, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano has just introduced AB 1652, the product of the legislative hearings, with the intent to limit usage of solitary confinement in California. Among other things, the bill text limits confinement to serious offenses, and creates a 3-year maximum confinement if the assignment to solitary is based on gang status alone.

But there are other news as well. As some readers know, there is an ongoing lawsuit against the Contra Costa Juvenile Hall for locking up youth with disabilities for 23 hours a day. Today, the feds have joined the battle – on the side of the inmates. Disability Rights Advocates reports:

Youth with disabilities generally are disproportionately represented in juvenile correctional facilities and by Contra Costa County’s own estimate, roughly 32% of the students at the Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall have disabilities that require some form of special education. Despite their disabilities, youth at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are locked for days and weeks at a time in cells that have barely enough room for a bed and a narrow window the width of a hand and length of an arm. Indeed young people are routinely held in conditions like those in a maximum security prison. The results of such conditions are devastating. For instance, named Plaintiff W.B. was placed in solitary confinement for more than 90 days, during which time he deteriorated mentally to the point where he was smearing feces on the wall and, ultimately, was held in a psychiatric hospital for three weeks.

“The United States Department of Justice and Department of Education have singled out Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall for a reason,” said Mary-Lee Smith, Managing Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “Contra Costa County and Contra Costa County Office of Education’s refusal to accept their legal obligations cannot continue, too many young people with disabilities are suffering and that must end.”

“United States Department of Justice and Department of Education involvement in this case should be a wake-up call to Contra Costa County and the County Office of Education,” said Laura Faer, Statewide Education Rights Director. “Every day more young people are harmed by their failure to take responsibility and follow federal and state law. These flagrant violations of children’s rights to education and rehabilitative services must stop.”

Note that the feds are dressing their objections to this practice as an educational issue: that is, the problem is not that segregation is cruel and unusual per se, but that it hampers these students educational opportunities. Even on such a narrow basis, it’s remarkable that the feds have found it politically sayable to oppose these practices and place themselves squarely on the side of the inmates.

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