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San Diego and San Francisco Juvenile Hall Investigations

  • Synopsis: Published: 2016-02-27 - Disability Rights California issues findings of investigations into use of pepper spray and excessive use of room confinement. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Disability Rights California at

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Quote: "Pepper spray is highly dangerous, especially for youth with disabilities, said DRC attorney Rebecca Cervenak, who led the San Diego inspection."

Disability Rights California (DRC) released two reports (see below) on conditions in juvenile halls in San Diego and San Francisco.

DRC inspected facilities in both counties, interviewed youth, their families and attorneys, and reviewed medical records and public documents. One of the primary findings is the use of pepper spray in San Diego facilities, while San Francisco, and other juvenile facilities have banned it.

"Pepper spray is highly dangerous, especially for youth with disabilities," said DRC attorney Rebecca Cervenak, who led the San Diego inspection. "Yet staff report that they routinely use it, which violates the rights of vulnerable children, constitutes abuse, and must end immediately."

In contrast, DRC found that the San Francisco juvenile hall has an absolute ban on the use of pepper spray. That ban was one of a number of positive practices found during inspections of Youth Guidance Center. Other favorable practices include a low population count and mental health assessments for all youth in the facility.

However, the reports also found that both counties place youth in isolation as punishment, a practice known euphemistically as "room confinement." "San Francisco places youth on room confinement for months at a time," said Anne Hadreas, DRC attorney who led the San Francisco inspection. "This is no different than solitary confinement, which can cause long-term psychological damage to young people."

DRC will continue to monitor the conditions in both counties throughout the year.

The reports stem from DRC's authority under state and federal law to investigate any facility in California in which people with disabilities are housed or detained. DRC partnered with the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit public interest law firm, to help with the investigations.

These are two of six reports DRC is issuing about conditions in California jails and juvenile facilities. The nonprofit advocacy organization released a report critical of conditions in the Sacramento County Jail last fall. Three additional reports resulting from similar investigations of California county jails will be issued over the next several months.


Related Information:

  1. People with Intellectual Disabilities and the Prison System - Disabled World
  2. Advancing U.S. Juvenile Justice Reform - Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs
  3. How Teenage Mental Illness Relates to the Homeless Youth - MWellA

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