confinement in juvenile facilities. 6 This article tells the story of the multi-decade saga leading up
to the enactment of legislation limiting solitary confinement of youth in state and local juvenile
facilities in California. It encompasses the efforts of advocates, litigators, legislators, journalists,
youth and family members, and juvenile system professionals over a period of more than thirty
years. The history of this legislation in California may provide insights that are useful in addressing
other issues and in other jurisdictions.
For advocates, this is a story about persistence, recognizing and seizing opportunities, the
importance of understanding the issues, and loyalty to core values. For youth who have
experienced the system and their families, it is proof that their voices can be a force for change.
For litigators, it demonstrates how the legal process can elevate issues and bring about institutional
reform. For journalists, it confirms that words matter and that giving reporters the freedom to do
investigative reporting is a worthy endeavor. For facility administrators and staff, this history
provides support for re-examining long-held beliefs about locked room confinement and exploring
new ways to keep children safe and address misbehavior. For policymakers, it offers a lesson on
the importance of listening to the concerns of opposing sides and of problem-solving to reach
consensus. For the general public, it demonstrates that transparency in public institutions is
important and that meaningful change can happen through legislative action.
We recognize that the story will not end with the passage of the new law. “Solitary
confinement” has been used in juvenile and adult corrections facilities for well over a century and
is ingrained in institutional practice. While the legislation provides significant guidelines to limit
locked-room confinement, there will surely be challenges in implementation. Corrections officials,
policymakers, and juvenile advocates will need to find ways to resolve emerging issues that both
honor the intent of the legislation and respect the legitimate needs of staff and institutional
operations. Nonetheless, the enactment of state law and regulations restricting the use of locked
room time represents a remarkable moment in juvenile justice history, reflecting our evolving
values about treatment of young people in institutional care.
This article is not specifically about the harms caused by locked room confinement or the
general history of the practice. Those subjects are well-covered in other writings7 and are
addressed here only to the extent they relate to the California reform efforts. We start with the
6 S.B. No. 1143, 2016 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ca. 2016) (an act to add Section 208.3 to the Welfare and Institutions Code,
relating to juveniles).
7 An excellent California-specific history of juvenile institutions and isolation can be found in DANIEL E. MACALLAIR,
AFTER THE DOORS WERE LOCKED: A HISTORY OF YOUTH CORRECTIONS IN CALIFORNIA AND THE ORIGINS OF
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY REFORM (2015). Good general historical background on juvenile institutions and isolation
of children appears in STEVEN L. SCHLOSSMAN, LOVE AND THE AMERICAN DELINQUENT 228, 22–31(1977); JOSEPH
M. HAWES, CHILDREN IN URBAN SOCIETY: JUVENILE DELINQUENCY IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA 28–29
(1971); ANTHONY M. PLATT, THE CHILD SAVERS: THE INVENTION OF DELINQUENCY 150-151 (2009); see generally
Harry Elmer Barnes, Historical Origin of the Prison System in America, 12 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 35 (1921);
Sanford J. Fox, Juvenile Justice Reform: An Historical Perspective, 22 STAN. L. REV. 1187 (1970); Peter Scharff
Smith, The Effects of Solitary Confinement on Prison Inmates: A Brief History and Review of the Literature, 34 CRIME
& JUST. 441 (2006); Laura Anne Gallagher, More Than a Time Out: Juvenile Solitary Confinement, 18 UC DAVIS J.
JUV. JUST. & POL’Y 244 (2014). Also, early cases and civil rights litigation address the harm from isolation practices
in juvenile institutions, for example Elmore v. Stone, 355 F.2d 841 (D.C. Cir. 1966); Lollis v. New York State Dep’t.
of Soc. Servs., 322 F. Supp. 473 (S.D.N.Y. 1970); Nelson v. Heyne, 355 F. Supp. 451 (N.D. Ind. 1972); Inmates of
Boys’ Training Sch. v. Affleck, 346 F. Supp. 1354 (D.R.I. 1972); Pena v. New York State Div. for Youth, 419 F.
Supp. 203 (S.D.N.Y. 1976); Morgan v. Sproat, 432 F. Supp. 1130 (S.D. Miss. 1977); Morales v. Turman, 562 F.2d
993 (5th Cir. 1977); and Santana v. Collazo, 714 F.2d 1172 (1st Cir. 1983).