84 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 39: 1 2019]
regulations took effect January 1, 2019.374 Although the room confinement regulation largely
tracks the statute, it actually broadens the definition of what rooms are covered; the statute applies
to youth in a “locked sleeping room or cell,”375 but the regulation expands the definition to include
any “locked room.”376
The new law and regulations reflect a profound change in consciousness about locked room
confinement, but it would be naïve to think that implementation will always go smoothly.377 Some
of the practices that will now be limited were considered best practices not that long ago. Isolating
youth at risk of suicide, for example, was once commonly employed, but is now considered
dangerous and counter-productive.378 Other practices, such as imposing room confinement as a
disciplinary sanction, often through written policies that the youth will receive “X” number of days
in confinement for a fight or for having contraband, have been standard practice in juvenile
facilities across the country for decades.379 Replacing those punishments with non-room
confinement sanctions and changing behavior management programs from punitive to positive
reward systems, will require substantial rethinking and retooling. Fortunately, as evidenced by
much of what has been discussed in this article, these efforts will proceed amidst unprecedented
national activity and initiatives whose purpose is to provide support for needed changes.
Some juvenile halls are already embracing the new law as an opportunity to transform the
way they work with youth. In Sacramento County, confinement in a stark locked room has been
replaced by the presence of a pleasant, safe space to take youth in conflict. This multi-sensory de-escalation room (MSDR), called "the Cove" by staff and youth, is designed to be a supportive
space where youth can use a feelings chart, or play team-building games to build communications
374 BOARD OF STATE AND COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS, TITLE 15 MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR JUVENILE FACILITIES
(2019); CAL. CODE REGS. 15, § 1300-1511 (2019) (eff. Jan. 1, 2019).
375 CAL. WELF. & INST. CODE § 208.3 (a)( 3) (2018).
376 CAL. CODE REGS. 15, § 1302. Definitions (2019) (eff. Jan. 1, 2019).
377 These are not just theoretical concerns. After the Los Angeles resolution to end solitary confinement, and years of
Department of Justice monitoring, the county resolved to transform its Special Handling Units (SHUs), into HOPE
(Healing Opportunity and Positive Engagement) Centers, enlisting youth and the local art community “to reimagine,
redesign and reclaim” the SHUs. Initial reports sounded promising: “There were all kinds of positive programs going
on up there. People were at different tables working with the kids. The furniture was comfortable. When the kids left,
they felt better about themselves. They’d accomplished something while they were up there.” One year later, though,
officials again visited the facility and were alarmed by what they saw. All of the atmospheric improvements were
gone and youth were being held in what amounted to solitary confinement for days at a time. Memo from John Naimo,
Auditor-Controller, Cty of Los Angeles Dep't of Auditor-Controller Dep’t, to Mark Ridley-Thomas et al., Bd. of
Supervisors Dep’t 1, 4 (Dec. 6, 2016), http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/auditor/cmr/1020330_2016-12-
JunethroughAugust2016.pdf; Celeste Fremon, Several Kids Reportedly Kept in Solitary Conditions For Days At LA
County’s Largest Juvenile Hall, WITNESS LA (Oct. 10, 2017), http://www.witnessla.com/several-kids-reportedly-kept-in-solitary-conditions-for-days-at-la-countys-largest-juvenile-hall/.
378 See Lindsey M. Hayes, Characteristics of Juvenile Suicide in Confinement, OFF. OF JUV. JUST. & DELINQ.
PREVENTION, OJJDP 1, 6–7, 10 (Feb. 2009), https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/214434.pdf.
379 For example, when a U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention national study of juvenile
facilities was undertaken in the 1990’s, the measure of whether a facility conformed with expected standards was
whether disciplinary isolation was limited to 5 days. Dale G. Parent, et al., Conditions of Confinement: Juvenile
Detention and Corrections Facilities – Research Report, U.S. Off. OF JUV. JUST. & DELINQ. PREVENTION 158, 174
(1994), https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/7-Chapter7.pdf. The study found that 47% of detention centers
surveyed did not have written policies that met the standard. Id. at 182.