At probation camps and juvenile halls, where delinquent minors are often held, officials sometimes have no choice but to temporarily isolate disruptive juveniles for the safety of other youths and camp personnel. But as an hour turns into a day or more — and reports from some camps and halls suggest it can turn into a week or a month — temporary isolation turns into solitary confinement, a brutal practice when employed against anyone, and an especially cruel way to treat a juvenile who is still developing and does not yet have the emotional skills to bounce back from such treatment.
And if the juvenile is already mentally disturbed, solitary confinement can further degrade his or her mental state. It can make treatment more difficult and, some studies suggest, suicide more likely.
Solitary confinement is ultimately a mental health issue for anyone who goes through it, and the practice, if it is to continue, should at the very least be documented for public review and monitored by mental health professionals.
That's difficult to do in California because from camp to camp and county to county, there is no consistent definition of solitary confinement. Some officials say isolation is part of their treatment programs, but it can look an awful lot like retaliation, punishment or professional incompetence. The same is true in state youth facilities, where so-called temporary detention and even treatment programs can in effect be 23-hour-a-day lockdowns.