May 16 2016

I was only 17 when I was put in solitary confinement in LA County juvenile hall. I was in a small, dirty, concrete cell.  The mattress was so ripped up it felt as if I was lying on concrete and steel bars. We were only allowed to wear our boxers, t-shirt, socks, and given a thin blanket to keep warm. It was horrible, I felt like an animal in a cage. Nobody should have to live through that.

The Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) and Children’s Defense Fund-California have been working for the past two years to end solitary confinement, room confinement and restrictive housing in County juvenile halls and Probation camps. On May 3rd, I testified with other YJC members on our experiences on lock down. This wasn’t our first time here. We’ve been telling our stories and giving our solutions for a long time. And the organizing paid off –  we won.

Francisco Martines
Francisco Martines

Except in rare situations, and then only for a short “cool-off period” and only when other interventions aren’t working, room confinement of any kind will no longer be used in LA County’s juvenile halls, camps or placements.

My life could have been way different if they had done something different.  Instead of having me do positive things they had me alone in my room, feeling hopeless, helpless and scared. Being in your room for so many hours without anything to read, nothing to write with, and nothing to occupy your mind is traumatizing.

Why couldn’t I have received help for the problems I was facing? Like drug and alcohol classes, and communication classes to help me express myself to family and friends. Instead of solitary confinement, they should offer things that could help us get better. Hopefully, that will now be a reality for other youth who are struggling like I was.

Being let out of the room, even for a short while, was like having a huge weight lifted from my shoulders.  And because we organized, because we spoke up, youth who are on the inside now, or in the future, will never have to suffer solitary confinement the way we did.

Francisco's wish for himself and others like him.
Francisco’s wish for himself and others like him.

While this is a big victory for youth in LA County, we aren’t done yet.  Youth across California need adults who will help us overcome our trauma and stress, not add to it. Hopefully, California will be ending this practice of torture in youth lock-ups and people of all ages will have these same protections.