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Contra Costa Case Settles: No More Punitive Isolation at Juvenile Hall

In a groundbreaking settlement announced late yesterday afternoon, the Contra Costa County Probation Department agreed to end its use of punitive solitary confinement for all youth detained in Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall and the Contra Costa County Office of Education also agreed to ensure the provision of appropriate education services to youth with disabilities detained there.  Students can no longer be placed into isolation as a punishment and can only be confined to their rooms to prevent immediate harm to themselves or others (and even then, for no more than four hours).
We believe that this case, G.F. et al. v. Contra Costa County et al., brings clarity to the intersection of federal laws that impact the provision of education to youth in custody: punitive isolation practices are inconsistent with federal civil rights protections, including the mandates of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).   Some agencies already prohibit the use of disciplinary segregation, but many do not.  We hope that this high-profile agreement will serve as a catalyst for those agencies to reflect on their practices, take steps to comply with federal law, and not wait for litigation to come to them.
The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education demonstrated their commitment to this effort during the progression of the case. In February of last year, the Departments filed a joint statement of interest and in January of this year, they released a guidance package relating to correctional education in juvenile justice facilities.  We believe that this settlement agreement, when coupled with these recent statements, sends a clear message to custodial care agencies and their education partners: the time for change has come.  We salute leaders around the country who are proactively reforming their practices and we are available to support those who are interested in joining them.
Isolating students for the purpose of behavior management is not an effective, humane, or educationally sound practice.  We implore all of those involved in the juvenile justice system to acknowledge the damage that punitive isolation has on students and to demand change.  And we applaud all those who continue to challenge its use, including the students in the Contra Costa case:
“They kept me from school for little things and had all sorts of excuses to keep me in my cell. I missed so many days of school as a result, and you can never get those back,” said Q.G., a named plaintiff in the case who was placed in solitary confinement for more than 100 days. “All of those missed days of school are the reason I am so far behind now. Without a good education, you feel hopeless about your life and future. These settlements are really important because they will give a better chance to the kids who will be in the hall to change their lives around, not do anything else that gets them locked up, and have a better future.” (Public Counsel Press Release)
Let’s all commit to supporting each of these students as they work towards that better future.
David, Hailly, and Christy

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