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Criminal Justice

Organizers Rally To Call For Restrictions On Solitary Confinement

Rojas and Maria Alvarado hold signs at a rally calling for restrictions on solitary confinement. Rojas wears a white shirt and holds a blue sign that reads "Solidarity not solitary." Alvarado holds a sign that reads "Solitary Confinement is a Mental Health Issue. Support AB 2632"
Rojas (L) and Maria Alvarado attended a rally calling for restrictions on solitary confinement on Wed. July 27. Rojas called time spent in solitary "probably one of the most horrible experiences of my life."
(Robert Garrova / LAist)
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Organizers rallied outside the Glendale offices of State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge) Wednesday to call for support of a bill that would put restrictions on the use of solitary confinement. The bill is slated to be heard in the California Senate Appropriations Committee next week, where Portantino is chair.

The measure, AB2632, would prohibit solitary confinement for people who live with a mental illness or who are disabled, pregnant or under 26 years of age or over 59 years of age. The bill also seeks to establish a standard definition of solitary confinement, which criminal justice reform advocates say can fall under other names, such as ‘administrative segregation’ or ‘restrictive housing.’

In L.A. County, the jail system was found to be out of compliance with a 2015 federal settlement agreement that required “ten hours of unstructured out-of-cell recreational time and ten hours of structured therapeutic or programmatic time per week” for incarcerated people living with a mental illness, according to an Oct. 2021 report from a court-appointed monitor who observes conditions in the jails.

Mental health experts argue solitary confinement can inflict serious psychological damage on incarcerated people. According to the United Nations’ standards on treatment of incarcerated people “the imposition of solitary confinement should be prohibited in the case of prisoners with mental or physical disabilities when their conditions would be exacerbated by such measures.”

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“It was probably one of the most horrible experiences of my life, like, I wasn’t even allowed a dictionary,” said Rojas, a formerly incarcerated Compton resident who wished to only be identified by her last name.

Rojas said she spent more than two years in solitary at the Central California Women’s Facility before getting out in 2016. She’s still dealing with the psychological effects of the experience and struggles with PTSD, Rojas said.

Lisa Knox, legal director for the California Collaborative for Immigrant justice, said solitary and solitary confinement-like practices also affect people at immigration detention centers. Knox said since prisons, jails and immigrant detention facilities all employ solitary confinement-like practices under different names, it’s important that the measure, AB2632, will provide a standard definition.

“We’re saying anytime someone is kept alone, or with another person, locked in a cell for more than 17 hours a day, that would be solitary confinement,” Knox said.

What questions do you have about mental health in SoCal?
One of my goals on the mental health beat is to make the seemingly intractable mental health care system more navigable.