Based on findings by the state’s own court-appointed overseers, California Watch reports that “Juvenile inmates at California correctional facilities have been held in isolation nearly 24 hours straight on hundreds of occasions this year, in violation of state regulations.”

An audit by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in March found multiple facilities operated by the Division of Juvenile Justice kept youth prisoners deemed a threat in their cells for all but 40 minutes a day. Auditors found Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, to be the worst offender.

The juveniles placed on “temporary detention” or “temporary intervention plans” can be placed in solitary confinement for 21 hours a day.

Youth facilities exceeded that limit 249 times from January through April, according to numbers provided to Nancy Campbell, who is appointed by the state courts to oversee the juvenile facilities. Campbell confirmed the findings [PDF] in a letter to the Prison Law Office last month. Campbell wrote:

Documentation shows that the most frequent failure to meet out-of-room requirements has occurred at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility. In the 14 weeks documented, there were 173 out of 1,453 incidents during which youth on TD [temporary detention] or TIP [temporary intervention plans] spent more than 21 of 24 hours confined to his or her rooms. Other DJJ facilities struggle to meet mandated services requirements as well: OH Close Youth Correctional Facility (43 out of 588 incidents); Preston Youth Correctional Facility (15 of 245 incidents); Southern Youth Correctional Reception Center and Clinic (10 of 198 incidents); and NA Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility (8 of 761 incidents).

The Prison Law Office has responded to the violations with a new motion in the lawsuit Farrell v. Cate, which the state settled with an agreement to reform mental health care at youth facilities in 2004. The filing seeks to force the juvenile justice division to comply with the 21-hour isolation limit.

“Those findings are consistent with what experts have been saying month after month, year after year, and the problem has not been solved,” Sara Norman, managing attorney at the Prison Law Office, told The Bay Citizen. “These are the problems that are hurting the youth the most, and we are out of patience.”

Keep in mind that California’s regulations actually permit juvenile prisoners to be isolated 21 out of 24 hours, yet the state’s facilities cannot manage to get teens out of their cells or rooms for even three hours a day. This despite the fact that a 2000 report by California’s Inspector General found that keeping juveniles in prolonged isolation can have a “profound” impact on their well-being. The problem, according to the audit, reflects the crisis in California’s adult prisons, as recently addressed by the Supreme Court: there are simply too many kids in juvie, with too few staff and resources to deal with them humanely.

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