WASHINGTON, D.C. /California Newswire/ — U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-San Fernando Valley), co-author of the landmark Schiff-Cárdenas Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act of 2000 in California, today introduced two bills to reform the incarceration and confinement of juveniles in the United States.
The Protecting Youth from Solitary Confinement Act addresses a critical oversight in jails where juveniles are kept. The Protecting Youth from Solitary Confinement Act bans solitary confinement for youth in federal juvenile facilities, and requires an annual report to Congress on the rate at which juveniles are still subject to solitary confinement.
Every year, thousands of American children are sent to prison where they are at risk of solitary confinement.
Solitary confinement entails the physical and social isolation of a human being for 22 to 24 hours a day, sometimes for an indefinite period of time.
Youth are particularly vulnerable to the potential harms caused by solitary confinement because they are developmentally at a formative stage in their lives. Too often, the mental health of youth subjected to solitary confinement deteriorates to the point of self-harm or suicide.
“The pain and suffering experienced as a result of solitary confinement can violate the standards of international and U.S. Constitutional law,” said Cárdenas. “It is unacceptable that we put our children at risk of sustaining the massive emotional, psychological and physical damage that can be created by solitary confinement.”
Cárdenas’ second piece of legislation, the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act, will keep American children out of jail for “status offenses,” offenses that would not be judicial issues if the offender were not a juvenile. This includes “offenses” like breaking curfew, running away from home or skipping school.
“The science is clear; confining kids doesn’t stop this behavior,” said Cárdenas. “In fact, it could make the behavior worse.”
Even with scientific knowledge showing the negative impact of putting children in jail for status offenses and federal law banning such actions, the Valid Court Order (VCO) Exception (a loophole to avoid the federal ban) has been used more than 1000 times a year for three decades to incarcerate juveniles for these “offenses.”
Many states have already made using the VCO Exception illegal. Cárdenas’ bill will ban it nationwide.
“These are commonsense, straight-forward pieces of legislation that should not be controversial,” said Cárdenas. “We should not be putting kids in jail for skipping school and we should not be putting kids in solitary confinement, potentially ruining any chance they have at a normal life. Our children are the future of this nation. Juvenile justice reform means protecting and growing their potential, not condemning them to a life destroyed by their own government.”
News item provided by Office of Congressman Tony Cárdenas, California’s 29th Congressional District. More information: http://cardenas.house.gov/ .