Attorney General Bonta Calls for Stronger Regulatory Protections for Justice-Involved Youth

Tuesday, March 14, 2023
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Highlights nearly a dozen areas for commonsense reform to support safe and supportive conditions for youth in juvenile detention

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today sent a letter urging the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), as part of the agency’s quadrennial regulatory review process, to take additional steps to strengthen protections for justice-involved youth. In the comment letter, the Attorney General highlights nearly a dozen areas for commonsense reform to support safe and supportive conditions for youth in juvenile detention.

“Every child in our state is entitled to a safe, supportive environment,” said Attorney General Bonta. “For justice-involved youth in particular, it is imperative that our institutions give them every opportunity for rehabilitation, growth, and healing. I’m grateful to the Board of State and Community Corrections for taking steps to build on our state’s robust protections and I strongly urge them to consider my office’s additional recommendations. Children — no matter their circumstances — are our future. The way we treat children sets the foundation for who we will become.”

Through Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations (Title 15), BSCC sets and maintains statewide standards governing juvenile detention facilities and conditions of confinement for youth. The regulations cover a wide range of issues affecting justice-involved youth, from the provision of education, programming, and recreation; to medical and mental healthcare; to disaster preparedness and emergency procedures. The Attorney General’s office is deeply committed to ensuring that facilities for the detention of youth maintain safe and supportive conditions, and that youth detained in these facilities, at a minimum, receive the care, treatment, and services that are required by law and that promote rehabilitation. These basic, protective standards are especially important for justice-involved youth, who experience mental health issues at a rate higher than their peers — up to 70% of justice-involved youth. Programming, recreation, and exercise are integral to the rehabilitative purposes of juvenile detention. 

In the comment letter, the Attorney General’s Bureau of Children’s Justice makes a number of recommendations to BSCC to ensure that juvenile facilities maintain conditions that comply with constitutional minimum standards of care and are consistent with the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system. Among the recommendations made to BSCC:

  • Room Confinement: Ensure that room confinement does not interfere with the provision of services, programming, education, mental health and medical care, bathroom use, eating, exercise, visitation, outdoor recreation, and other needs.
  • Suspension of Regulations: Title 15 permits a facility administrator to temporarily suspend regulatory requirements in the event of an emergency. BSCC should make it clear that insufficient numbers of staff on duty alone is not a basis for suspending regulatory protections.
  • Use of Force: Prohibit the use of chemical agents on youth who are in physical restraints and youth for whom the use of chemical agents is medically contraindicated. And provide that force shall not be used in response to disrespectful or noncompliant behavior that does not pose a threat to facility security or the safety of persons.
  • Staff Orientation and Training: As part of training, ensure staff also understand and receive information regarding adverse childhood experiences, adolescent development, and positive behavior interventions and supports.
  • Grievance and Abuse Reporting: Explicitly require juvenile detention facilities to retain a compliance coordinator who is trained in identifying, investigating, and responding to allegations of sexual abuse, assault, harassment, and physical abuse — and strengthen requirements to prevent, detect, and promptly respond to such reports, as well as retaliation for reporting abuse.

Attorney General Bonta is deeply committed to supporting the safety and wellbeing of children across California. Last week, the Attorney General, alongside federal, state, and local law enforcement, announced the arrest of 18 individuals for allegedly attempting to target children online for sex. Last year, he filed an amicus brief urging an appellate court to support efforts by the Sacramento County Board of Education to keep children in school when addressing disciplinary issues. Attorney General Bonta also secured a stipulated judgment to protect child victims of sexual assault and abuse across Humboldt County. In 2022, the Attorney General co-led a multistate effort to support stronger protections against sexual violence and harassment in schools. In 2021, Attorney General Bonta issued guidance to law enforcement statewide on techniques to reduce harm in interactions with sexually exploited youth.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

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