Over the last 10 years, California's juvenile justice system has begun to emerge from the darkest of its dark days. In settling lawsuits, the state agreed to turn away from inhumane practices and reduce youth prison violence, abide by laws that require educational and mental health and healthcare services, and provide access for the physically disabled. The state was caught physically abusing its wards, sometimes by looking the other way when fights broke out, sometimes by spurring the fights on, sometimes by guards actually beating the wards. The shocking thing is that it took lawsuits to stop these practices.
Yet there are some aspects in which the juvenile justice dark ages remain as dark as ever. Wards at juvenile detention facilities continue to be locked in solitary confinement, according to advocates at Books Not Bars, a campaign of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and the Youth Justice Coalition.
The practice is often hidden, the advocates say, because there is no consistent definition of solitary confinement and because juvenile prison officials use terms like "temporary detention" and "behavior treatment program." But solitary remains solitary, and can last a month or more, during which youths are locked in their cells, alone, for 23 or even 24 hours a day.