A rare consensus on juvenile detention

Visitors tour Housing Unit 11 at the Sacramento County Juvenile Detention Center in Rosemont in 2011.
Visitors tour Housing Unit 11 at the Sacramento County Juvenile Detention Center in Rosemont in 2011. Sacramento Bee file

Every so often in politics, longstanding opposition can give way to unified action toward a greater good. The Chief Probation Officers of California, the Ella Baker Center, Pacific Juvenile Defender Center and other advocacy groups are doing that by co-sponsoring Senate Bill 1143.

The measure, scheduled to be on the Senate floor on Thursday, would limit room confinement in juvenile detention facilities and provide guidance on when it should be used.

SB 1143 is the product of five years of robust and sometimes challenging dialogue. At first, we disagreed about terminology and the operational impacts of the bill. But it became increasingly apparent that all of us were more concerned with the greater purpose, and by listening to one another, we were able to develop a mutually satisfactory set of best practices.

The bill creates a statewide definition for room confinement in county and state juvenile correctional facilities – the placement of a youth in a sleeping room or cell alone with minimal contact from staff. The bill also calls for such confinement only being used after less restrictive options have been attempted, unless there is a threat to the safety or security of staff or other juveniles.

It is generally limited to four hours and requires that specific steps be taken to reintegrate the young person back into regular confinement as soon as possible. Finally, the bill bans the use of room confinement as punishment or convenience or when it compromises the mental and physical health of the young person.

Our approach on this bill coincides with evolving thinking in juvenile justice over the past several years to use approaches and interventions that have proved effective to reduce risk and recidivism.

This legislation represents policymaking at its best. Through dialogue with Sen. Mark Leno, we have crafted a measure that prevents harm to young people, ensures the safety of facility personnel and encourages rehabilitation.

We look forward to moving SB 1143 through the Legislature, to the governor’s desk and into our juvenile facilities.

Mark Bonini is president of Chief Probation Officers of California and can be contacted at Sue Burrell is policy and training director of the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center and can be contacted at