ARC Virtual Fireside Chat – March 20th

Join Executive Director, Sam Lewis, and other ARC leaders this Friday at 12:00pm PT for our first-ever Virtual Fireside Chat.

You’ll hear from speakers who themselves have been incarcerated during a lockdown, who know firsthand what some of our most vulnerable community members are experiencing right now.

We will discuss what ARC is doing to keep our community members (including those who are currently incarcerated), staff, and allies healthy during the Coronavirus pandemic. We’ll also share with you the advocacy work we are engaged in to ensure that our brothers and sisters on the inside are safe and treated with compassion during this time.

Tentative agenda:

  • Welcome
    Sam Lewis, Executive Director
  • Reentry and Inside Programs Update
    Jacob Brevard, Director of Inside Programs
    Norma Cumpian, Manager, Women and Non-Binary Services
    Robert Chavez, Inside Programs Coordinator
  • Q & A
    Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions.

To RSVP for the virtual fireside chat and add it to your calendar, please click here. The link and instructions for access will be emailed to you.

We look forward to convening online with you this Friday, March 20th, at 12pm!

Read if you were incarcerated at Lynwood (CRDF) Between 2008-2015

Hello ARC Community,

Please read the following LA Times story about the record settlement for thousands of women humiliated during strip searches in LA County’s Women’s Jail. Please also see below if you might have been impacted by this settlement.

If you were incarcerated at Lynwood (CRDF) and have questions about the class action settlement for strip searches, please reach out to Lindsay Battles, one of the attorneys handling the case. You can send her a friend request and she will add you to a private Facebook group for this case. You can also call (626) 844-7660.

VERY IMPORTANT: If you were strip searched between 3/2008 and 1/2015, you should also go to to register your contact information. This is the case website.  Registering your contact information will help ensure that you receive class notice and have the opportunity to file a claim.  

ARC Announces Sam Lewis As Next Executive Director

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) has selected Sam Lewis as its next Executive Director.

Sam is an ARC member and Director of Inside Programs, a first-of-its kind initiative that he built from scratch. A former life prisoner himself, Sam oversees our Hope & Redemption Team (HART), nine former lifers who go back into California state prisons to provide hope, to demonstrate that redemption is achievable, and to prepare participants for successful reentry into our communities. His work on the HART team exemplifies what’s best about ARC: our desire to reach and walk with those who have been most marginalized by society.

Sam previously worked with Friends Outside Los Angeles County (FOLA) as Job Specialist, Case Manager, Employment Programs Supervisor, and Project Director, roles that reinforced his commitment to creating opportunities for formerly incarcerated men and women as they transition back into society. In 2018, Sam was the recipient of a Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Award and an Uncommon Law Uncommon Heroes award.

We are confident that Sam brings both the professional and life experience needed in this important leadership role and within the ARC community. We believe that Sam’s promotion to Executive Director is a victory for all ARC members and allies committed to developing leadership among those most impacted by the system.

As we celebrate Sam’s promotion, we want to thank Shaka Senghor for his great contributions to the ARC community during his tenure as Executive Director. Shaka launched ARC Creatives, a program that will continue to grow as an engine for cultural change in the criminal justice reform movement and beyond. We are grateful for Shaka’s vision and leadership at ARC.

Thank you to our community for your patience, support, and partnership in this transition—and we look forward to providing many opportunities for you to see Sam’s transformative work in action.

Sincerely yours,

Charity Chandler-Cole, Board Chair

Scott Budnick, Founder

NFL Selects ARC As Recipient of Social Justice Grant, Part of #InspireChange Platform

As part of its ongoing Inspire Change platform, the National Football League today announced that eight social justice organizations are receiving grants, as approved by the joint NFL owner-player working group. ARC is one of the organizations receiving a grant.

The grants, which total nearly $2 million, are part of a $20 million commitment from the NFL and its teams to social justice organizations during the 2018 calendar year. The $20 million is comprised of grants to social justice organizations from the NFL Foundation, social justice grants approved by the NFL owners-players working group, team and player contributions, and an ongoing financial commitment to the Players Coalition.

NFL teams also continue to engage directly with their communities on social justice matters with hundreds of events and millions of dollars in funding for various social justice organizations.

This round of funding will be awarded to the following organizations, with a focus on education and economic advancement; police and community relations; and criminal justice reform:

  • Alliance for Safety and Justice: Alliance for Safety and Justice is a national organization that aims to win new safety priorities in states by reducing incarceration and barriers for people living with a past conviction, advancing policies that help communities most harmed by crime and violence, and expanding constituencies and support for justice reform.
  • Anti-Recidivism Coalition: ARC advocates for transformational criminal justice reform, empowers people to achieve their dreams, and supports people as they make their way back into society.
  • Campaign for Black Male Achievement: The CBMA is a national membership network that seeks to ensure the growth, sustainability, and impact of leaders and organizations committed to improving the life outcomes of Black men and boys.
  • Civil Rights Corps: Civil Rights Corps are leaders in landmark litigation and high-impact advocacy that empowers communities to change the unjust legal system.
  • Gideon’s Promise: Gideon’s Promise is building a public defender movement to amplify the voice of impacted communities and transform criminal justice.
  • NAF: NAF solves some of the biggest challenges facing education and the workforce by bringing education, business, and community leaders together to transform the high school experience for students in underserved communities nationwide.
  • Vera Institute of Justice: The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent studying problems, testing solutions, harnessing the power of evidence, and driving public debate to urgently build justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities.
  • VOTE: By centering the voices, expertise, and experiences of formerly incarcerated leaders, VOTE helps the people most impacted by mass incarceration create a pathway to change.Working together with the Players Coalition, the NFL continues to support programs and initiatives that reduce barriers to opportunity.  Other organizations receiving NFL Social Justice grants thus far include Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA), Dream CorpsOperation HOPEand the UNCF (United Negro College Fund).During the March 2018 Annual Meeting, team owners voted to create 32 club/player matching social justice funds. As a result of these collaborative efforts, NFL teams and players raised an additional $10 million to be directed to social justice organizations.For more information on the joint work between players, teams and the league office on social justice, please visit

Ventura Training Center (VTC) Inaugural Class Graduates

Congratulations to the graduates of Ventura Training Center’s first class (01-19)! We are so proud of all your work and accomplishments! Thanks to our partners CALFIRE, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and California Conservation Corps (CCC) for leading this innovative venture to train and develop participants for careers in firefighting, emergency response, and resource conservation.

Thank you to all our ARC staff and support at VTC. We see here the power of giving people opportunities and we know how much they can give in service of their communities. As graduate Joseph Whalin said on behalf of his class, “let the bridges we’ve burned light the path we follow.” Not tethered to the past, all eyes on the future!


Read on Medium: Interview with Nicole Jeong, Reentry Attorney, Root & Rebound

Nicole Jeong is Root & Rebound’s Reentry Attorney and Manager of Southern California Partnerships. As a result of this partnership, it is our pleasure to have Nicole in our office to provide legal aid to ARC members as they navigate the many barriers they face post-incarceration. Shaka Senghor, Executive Director of ARC, spoke with Nicole about her work. Read the full piece on our Medium site: interview with Nicole Jeong.

ARC Criminal Justice Reforms Signed Into Law

We are thrilled to inform you that Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a series of bills that will create a more just system, improve public safety, and bring hope to thousands of incarcerated men, women and their loved ones across California.

ARC co-sponsored four of these measures (SB 1391, SB 1437, SB 439, and AB 2138), working alongside tireless advocates throughout the state to educate legislators about the importance of these justice reforms. While walking the halls of the State Capitol to advocate for these measures, ARC members showed again what is possible when you provide hope and invest in human life. We know these living examples of rehabilitation and redemption had great impact on California legislators and Governor Brown.

“The Equity and Justice bills signed by Gov. Brown make rehabilitation and community recovery the focus of our criminal justice system,” said Senator Ricardo Lara, who coauthored SB 1391 and SB 439. “Thirty years of harsh sentencing laws resulted in overcrowded prisons without improving public safety. We need to be tough but smart on crime. With these laws, California is reducing mass incarceration through research-based reforms that will contribute to public safety.”

Below are the specific bills:

  • SB 1391 will prohibit 14 & 15 year-olds from being tried in adult court or being sent to adult prison, ensuring that every youth has access to the rehabilitative services the juvenile system can provide. Click here to read Governor Brown’s resonant message on his signing of SB 1391.
  • SB 1437 ends California’s felony murder rule that holds accomplices to the same standard as those who actually committed the crime.
  • SB 439 establishes a minimum age for juvenile court prosecution at age 12, reducing the early criminalization of children. It also ensures alternative pathways to services for children whose behavior is indicative of unmet need.
  • AB 2138 prohibits the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) from denying or revoking a license for the following reasons: a non-serious conviction older than seven years, a dismissed conviction, or a non-conviction act that is not directly related to the qualifications or duties of the profession for which the application is made.

These bills build upon our previous advocacy work in providing second chances to people in the system and further lay groundwork for hope and redemption for those who were young adults when they entered the system.

This is a special time for justice reform work in California. We are enthusiastic about the ways in which opportunities for redemption are manifesting throughout California’ prison system. The enactment of these bills cements California’s position at the forefront of this reform work nationwide.

While helping to fight for the dignity of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, we are continuously inspired by the magnitude of your support. Whether through volunteering your time, your generosity, providing your expertise, or serving as mentors to our members, you let us know each day that you are deeply committed to healing families throughout the state.

We look forward to your continued support as we work to strengthen our communities in California and around the country.

In hope and redemption,

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition

Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Root & Rebound Announce New Partnership to Expand Reentry Legal Services in Southern California

July 11, 2018 – The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and Root and Rebound (R&R) are thrilled to announce a new partnership – the Southern California Reentry & Advocacy Project – that will pair comprehensive reentry support with high-quality legal services to ensure that individuals returning home from incarceration to Los Angeles County are able to live healthy, fulfilling lives, breaking the cycle of poverty and incarceration.

Since its founding in 2013, ARC has demonstrated a strong track record of providing effective reentry programming and transitional services to help formerly incarcerated individuals live healthy, productive lives once released. ARC provides its formerly incarcerated members with supportive housing, mental health services, education and employment assistance, mentorship, and opportunities for civic engagement. However, ARC staff do not have the legal expertise necessary to support its members in navigating the various legal barriers to reentry documented nationally, including in the areas of identification, voting, employment, housing, public benefits, family, and education.

Without this critical piece, ARC members and other Los Angeles County residents with criminal records face challenges in several areas of life: when they try to obtain identification, access public benefits, secure employment, enroll in higher education, and reunite with their children and other members of their families. Furthermore, with only one attorney for every 8,000 indigent individuals in California, and few civil legal aid organizations offering reentry legal support, there are very few places for members to turn to for help in navigating these challenges.

To address this gap in services and critical need, ARC is partnering with Root & Rebound. Root & Rebound has a unique model that encompasses legal education, advocacy, and systems reform that fills the gap for formerly incarcerated individuals and the community-based organizations and government agencies that support them. R&R’s programs have reached over 35,000 people to date and include both in-person and online legal education and training, the first-ever reentry legal hotline, a prison letter-writing service, an online training hub, and high-impact policy advocacy.

For the Southern California Reentry & Advocacy Project, R&R, which is based in Northern California and works throughout the state, will house one staff attorney at both ARC’s downtown Los Angeles and Sylmar offices, to provide comprehensive legal support to ARC members and their families, including: reentry legal clinics; Know-Your-Rights trainings for ARC members; and legal trainings for community-based partners, law enforcement agencies, academic institutions, and workforce development partners. This partnership was made possible with critical funding from the S. Mark Taper Foundation and the Valley Community Legal Foundation of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association.

“The Valley Community Legal Foundation is pleased and excited to provide financial support to the Southern California Reentry and Advocacy Project, and especially its Sylmar location, assisting the legal needs of reentry individuals and helping them reacclimate into our Southern California valley community, so they can lead constructive and productive lives,” said Laurence N. Kaldor, President of the Valley Community Legal Foundation.

To lead this partnership, R&R has hired Nicole Jeong as the Reentry Attorney and Manager of Southern California Partnerships. Nicole received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 2011. Prior to joining R&R, Nicole was a staff attorney in the Pro Bono Department at Legal Services NYC, the largest provider of civil legal services in the country. Nicole was also a general litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York and Morrison & Foerster in Los Angeles, as well as a law clerk to the Honorable Jesus G. Bernal of the Central District of California. During law school, Nicole participated in the Community Reentry Clinic, worked as a summer law clerk at the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, and served as an editor on the Yale Law Journal and Yale Journal of Law & Feminism. Nicole received her B.A., magna cum laude, in Sociology from the University of Southern California. She is an attorney licensed to practice in California and New York.

Katherine Katcher, Founder and Executive Director of Root & Rebound, shared her enthusiasm for the collaboration: “ARC is a dream partner for our organization for their high-quality services and support and the wonderful community they have created. We feel so lucky and honored to be working alongside and in partnership with them. Together, we look forward to both serving their members and providing greater capacity building resources and trainings for the wider Southern California community.”

ARC Executive Director Shaka Senghor shared, “We are excited to work in unison with Root and Rebound and look forward to fostering a long-term relationship that allows our organization to better serve our members. It’s a great day when two organizations collaborate to create pathways to success for the women, men, and families they serve. Nicole’s presence in our office provides ARC with the confidence that we can meet the legal needs of our members, ensuring their success.”

ARC and R&R are thrilled to announce this partnership to advance the civil rights of Southern Californians impacted by incarceration and empower formerly incarcerated individuals to live healthy, successful lives upon returning home.

For questions about the Southern California Reentry & Advocacy Project or opportunities to get involved, please contact Nicole Jeong at

The S. Mark Taper Foundation, founded in 1989, is a private family foundation dedicated to enhancing the quality of people’s lives by supporting nonprofit organizations and their work in our communities.

The mission of the Valley Community Legal Foundation is to support law-related programs that assist children, families, domestic violence victims and those in need; enhance community access to the courts; provide educational opportunities and scholarships to students who demonstrate a commitment to law-related studies; and, recognize and honor the achievements of law enforcement and firefighters.

ARC Announces Shaka Senghor as its New Executive Director

April 24, 2018

Dear ARC Friends and Allies,

Over the last year, as our organization planned for the transition of our Founder Scott Budnick, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) has undergone an extensive and thoughtful search to identify its next Executive Director. With guidance from our outstanding Board of Directors, ARC worked with Koya Leadership Partners and gathered valuable insight and direction from its staff and formerly incarcerated members to find a candidate who is committed to ARC’s values of redemption, social justice, and empowerment of system-connected individuals. ARC’s Board and staff are thrilled to announce Shaka Senghor as its new Executive Director.

Shaka is a gifted artist, a passionate leader, and a strategic advocate for criminal justice reform. He possesses a deep and unyielding compassion for the men, women, children, families, and communities who have been impacted by the juvenile and criminal justice systems, grounded in his own experience of having spent 19 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections. He has shared his story, both in his New York Times best-selling memoir “Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison” and in news articles, television pieces, and lectures around the world, including through TED Talks and Google Zeitgeist. In doing so, Shaka has contributed to our understanding of the inner workings of the U.S. prison system and the changes that need to take place in order for those who become involved in it to reach their fullest potential.

Formerly the Director of Strategy and Innovation at partner #cut50, Shaka has helped lead several successful criminal justice reform campaigns to reduce the prison population and improve community health. Van Jones, President and Co-Founder of #cut50 and Founder of The Dream Corps, Rebuild the Dream, Green For All, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Color of Change says, “We at the Dream Corps were proud to be able to hire Shaka soon after he came home. He has been an integral part of our team, helping us to build #cut50 into a national force. We know that his contributions to ARC will be equally profound. We look forward to continuing to collaborate in every way we can to end the scourge of mass incarceration.”

Shaka is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2017 Rev. Cecil Williams Legacy Award, 2016 EBONY Power100, 2016 Ford Man of Courage, 2016 NAACP Great Expectations Award, 2015 Manchester University Innovator of the Year, and 2012 Black Male Engagement (BMe) Leadership Award. He was recently recognized by the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) as a Soul Igniter in the inaugural class of the SuperSoul 100, a dynamic group of trailblazers whose vision and life’s work are bringing a higher level of consciousness to the world around them and encouraging others to do the same.

Shaka was a 2014 TED Prize finalist for The Atonement Project. He is a MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow alumnus, and former Fellow in the inaugural class of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network. He has taught at the University of Michigan and shares his story of redemption around the world. He is the father of two adult children who live in his hometown of Detroit and a six-year-old son, Sekou, who lives with him in Los Angeles.

Shaka has shared with great exuberance his forward-thinking vision as the newest member of the ARC family: “It’s an honor to lead an organization that works tirelessly on behalf of system-impacted men, women, and children, to ensure they return home healthy, whole, and employable. I am looking forward to helping grow ARC’s programs, continuing the leadership development of its members, and working closely with our partners to transform the system and create safer communities.”

Shaka(Final) -3 (2).jpg
Shaka’s appointment as Executive Director is particularly exciting for ARC’s formerly incarcerated staff members. ARC’s Inside Coordinator Jose Gonzalez shared, “The fact that the title ‘Executive Director’ and ‘formerly incarcerated’ can be in the same sentence describing one person, gives those of us with similar experiences hope.” ARC’s Director of Inside Programming, Sam Lewis, added, “It’s really great that the next Executive Director of ARC is a formerly incarcerated person. This definitely demonstrates that our organization believes in the leadership of the men and women we serve.”

In mid-May, ARC Founder Scott Budnick will transition to serve as full-time President and Chief Executive Officer of Good Films, a film and television production company focused on developing projects that promote social change through coordinated advocacy and action campaigns. While Good Films will develop projects that highlight a range of social issues, its first project will be the film adaptation of Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” in partnership with Warner Bros.

“We couldn’t have asked for a more capable, inspiring leader to take over the role of Executive Director,” says Founder Scott Budnick of Shaka. “Shaka is a powerful advocate for criminal justice reform, and with first-hand experience of the system, he brings a deep understanding of this work. I’m confident that he will guide our organization in fulfilling our mission and create new opportunities for the men and women we serve. ARC is incredibly lucky to have Shaka at the wheel.”

We are thrilled to welcome Shaka to the ARC family and look forward to continuing our work of changing lives and creating safer, healthier communities together.

In spirit and gratitude,

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition

ECMC Grantee Spotlight Highlighting the Anti-Recidivism Coalition

The following article series, developed by the ECMC Foundation, highlights the Foundation’s support of ARC’s Second Chance Union Training Program. See the full series here.

By Mai Tran

12/12/17 – In 2016, ECMC Foundation partnered with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and funded its pilot, the Second Chance Union Training Program. Comprehensive and lasting 12 weeks, the pre-apprenticeship program combines career and technical training with supportive services to prepare participants for guaranteed paid apprenticeships in the construction and building trades.

After the success of the program’s first two cohorts, ARC has secured funding from Los Angeles County to continue and is also planning to expand into additional career pathways.

“This is exactly what we hope for in our grant investments. The Foundation invests in programs and initiatives that are innovative and have the potential to make an incremental impact in the lives of learners,” said ECMC Foundation President Peter Taylor. “Once proven successful, we want our grantee partners to be able to secure funding for their program from additional sources. ECMC Foundation provides launch capital, which for many organizations is the biggest hurdle.”

This article series is a look at the program’s success and how it moved from concept to proven practice and now to expansion.


ONE: Two Unlikely Forces – Hollywood and Philanthropy – Partner During the Holidays To Improve Educational Outcomes and Reduce Recidivism

Scott Budnick, founder and president of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, found it difficult to secure capital for his innovative pre-apprenticeship program for formerly incarcerated individuals. Upon learning more about the concept, ECMC Foundation President Peter Taylor and the team agreed to invest in Budnick’s program, in large part because of the team’s belief that it is important for philanthropy to take risks on new ideas.

Read the full feature >


TWO: Albert Corona Credits Anti-Recidivism Coalition Pilot Apprenticeship Program for His Success

It turns out ECMC Foundation President Peter Taylor’s bet on Scott Budnick’s pre-apprenticeship program at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), has paid off. To date, ARC has enrolled 58 formerly incarcerated members across two cohorts; and of those 47 have completed the pre-apprenticeship program. A total of 36 participants have been placed directly into paid apprenticeship programs across eight unions. Last month program participant Albert Corona visited ECMC Foundation to share his success story.

Read the full feature >


THREE: Pilot Proves Successful, Leads to Expansion and Funding from LA County

All the buzz of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition’s (ARC) pre-apprenticeship program caught the attention of Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. Under Solis’ direction, LA County committed $350,000 to support the continuation of ARC’s Second Chance Union Training Program. Funds went towards supporting the third cohort, which graduated in August 2017 and also the fourth cohort, which will begin in early 2018. ARC also plans to expand into additional career pathways.

Read the full feature >

CDCR Update: Re-Notice of the Proposition 57 Regulations


November 29, 2017 (916) 445-4950

CDCR Issues Amended Proposition 57 Regulations

SACRAMENTO – Today, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) published a re-notice of the Proposition 57 regulations. The public will be given a 15-day period to submit comments on these revisions.

The revised regulations are the result of a previous public comment period. The Office of Administrative Law (OAL) had approved emergency regulations for Proposition 57 in April. CDCR received comments from approximately 12,000 individuals earlier this year, and the department has worked diligently to prepare responses to these comments, which will be provided to OAL in a final statement of reasons, per the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) process.

“Our decisions were not made lightly nor were they made in a vacuum. CDCR heard arguments representing a wide range of views, and concluded that many of the suggested changes would be contrary to existing law or would result in disparate treatment of inmates,” said CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan. “Our intent is to incentivize inmates to participate in rehabilitative and self-help programs that will make them better individuals, and to do so in a way that enhances public safety. I remain committed to putting in place a fair credit system that acknowledges good behavior and hard work.”

In the re-noticed regulations, credit-earning opportunities continue to be awarded prospectively (except for the Educational Merit Credits) to inmates for good behavior and successful program participation and completion, since inmate participation and documentation of programming was not uniform prior to Proposition 57. In addition, Third-Strike inmates will not be included in the nonviolent offender parole review process.

The Proposition 57 regulations include an increase in credit-earning opportunities for inmate participation in in-prison programs and activities, as well as parole consideration for nonviolent offenders once they have served the full-term of their primary offense. The emergency regulations approved in the spring have allowed CDCR to fully implement the provisions of the proposition, including the expansion of the Good Conduct Credits, which began on May 1, 2017; the nonviolent offender parole review process on July 1, 2017; and the credit-earning opportunities for Milestone Completion, Rehabilitative Achievement, Educational Merit, and Extraordinary Conduct, which went into effect on August 1, 2017.

The revised text of the regulations codifies the historic reform overwhelmingly passed by voters in November 2016 and gives inmates a strong incentive to participate in and complete rehabilitative programs. Furthermore, the most dangerous offenders remain in

prison; taxpayer dollars are spent as prudently as possible; and we avoid the release of offenders by the court due to the federally-imposed population cap on CDCR.

Proposition 57 does not apply to condemned inmates and those serving life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentences.

Read the Proposition 57 revised regulations, as well as responses to the top issues raised during the public comment period.

For more information, visit



Proposition 57 Regulations – Public Comment Period: Responses to Frequent Comments

 Proposition 57 – Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 – Fact Sheet

What It Feels Like to Be a Teen in Solitary Confinement

Ending The Practice Is A Big Deal For Juvenile Justice Reform

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy

Jaki Murillo was 12 years old when she first entered the juvenile justice system in California. When she was 9, she tells Teen Vogue, she was arrested for making “terrorist threats” after telling a teacher that she was going to send her uncles to hurt the teacher; she was then put on probation. A few years later, Jaki started running away from home and skipping school, a violation of her probation. At 12, she was sent to a juvenile detention hall in Los Angeles.

When she arrived there, she was immediately placed in a secure housing unit (SHU), also known as room confinement or solitary confinement. It was due to her age — because she was under 14, she was not able to be in “general population” with the rest of the minors in the juvenile hall due to departmental protocol at the time. Jaki was kept locked in her room all day, and only allowed out of the room for two hours a day. Even then, she describes her interactions as limited to “TV and food” — and only with the adult staff who would facilitate both of those things. As a young juvenile offender, the confinement that Jaki experienced was meant to keep her safe from older youth in general population. But the true effect she remembers was that she was isolated, largely barred from interacting with others.

For various reasons, Jaki stayed in the juvenile hall longer than she had anticipated, and because of her age, that meant more time in SHU. “I was supposed to be there for three months and it ended up being over a year,” Jaki tells Teen Vogue.

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Jaki recalls how alone she felt, isolated in her cell without contact. There were times she would scream for hours on end out of anger or frustration. There were times she would throw her food or just bang on her cell door over and over and over again, for lack of anything else to do. She had hardly anyone to talk to.

Eventually, she says, “I was in there for so long that I got used to it.”

Spokespeople for the LA County Probation Department and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told Teen Vogue that a lot has changed since the time Jaki was in the system. The LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion in 2016 to restrict how solitary confinement is used in the county’s juvenile detention facilities, like where Jaki was, and the state has enacted reforms based on a 2016 state law and also as part of a legal settlement, a spokesperson said.

However, justice advocates say more needs to be done on the issue. “As long as there is one child in one facility who is being unnecessarily isolated, we can do better,” Cheryl Bonacci, director of communications and program director for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and a former Catholic chaplain in the juvenile system, tells Teen Vogue. “We must continue to evolve the way we see and treat our children in the criminal justice system, listen to how they got to where they are, and work together as a community to help them heal in order to be able to move forward productively.”

The effort to end solitary confinement — the practice of isolating people in a closed cell for 22 to 24 hours a day — for minors is growing around the country. The 2016 California law limits the use of room confinement for juveniles in detention. Now, room confinement in California is banned for youth as a form of punishment, and only allowed in narrow circumstances, such as for the safety of the youth or staff — and even in those cases room confinement is limited to four hours. Over two dozen states and the District of Columbia now have laws that limit or prohibit solitary for youth, and others have seen a reduction in the use of solitary confinement for minors as a result of litigation, as has happened in Wisconsin and Illinois. In 2016, President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum banning the use of solitary confinement for minors in the federal prison system. However, the majority of minors presently in custody are in state, county, and city jails and prison systems — and it’s up to individual states to determine whether the practice can be used in their jurisdiction.

There are a number of reasons that a young person in custody might be placed into solitary confinement. While solitary is sometimes used to isolate and punish children who are fighting, causing disturbances, or otherwise acting out in detention facilities, minors can also find themselves in solitary confinement as a means of protecting them from other children in a detention center, during initial processing until a facility determines how best to manage a seemingly disruptive child, or even for medical reasons, such as having contracted a contagious disease or having expressed suicidal ideation.

2003 survey by the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that one-third of all youth in custody had been held in solitary at some point. And 87% of those children were held in solitary for more than two hours, with 55% of those children being held for longer than 24 hours. A 2009 DOJ report found that 62% of minors in juvenile detention centers who died by suicide had a history of room confinement.

Advocating for Change From the Top Down

This year, both chambers of Congress have introduced bills to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), a law that expired almost 10 years ago. Back in May, the House of Representatives passed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017 with broad bipartisan support, including the 14 Democrats and nine Republicans who co-sponsored the bill alongside its original sponsor, Rep. Jason Lewis, a Republican from Minnesota. The bill includes measures aimed at reforming the juvenile justice system. Proposed initiatives include community-based gang prevention programs and new measures to ensure that kids can’t be detained in the system for “status offenses,” which are behaviors like skipping school or running away from home that are against the law for minors but not adults.

A few months after the House’s bill passed, the Senate passed its own version in August. Because each chamber of Congress passed slightly different bills, it is now up to a conference committee, comprising representatives from both the House and Senate, to agree on a final version of the bill before it goes to President Trump for his signature.

“Reform on this issue is past overdue. I’m pleased that we were able to pass this thoughtful legislation in a bipartisan way to help ensure a better future for our children,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), one of the most vocal champions for juvenile justice reform in Congress, said in a statement after the bill’s passage in the House in May. “We cannot lose another generation of children to failed criminal justice policies.”

This is just one of several bills that Cárdenas introduced this spring aimed at reforming the juvenile justice system in the U.S. Another, the Protecting Youth from Solitary Confinement Act (H.R. 1926), aims to ban the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons for minors. It would not only make permanent at the federal level the work done by President Obama’s presidential memorandum, but help model and inspire states and local municipalities to ban the practice in their own systems.

“All the studies show that young minds are still developing and still impressionable. Solitary is one of the worst things we can do to any human being and it has really negative effects for juveniles,” Cárdenas tells Teen Vogue. “We need to stop being the only [member country of the United Nations] that does solitary for minors.”

“We’re not good at listening to best practices and learning from other countries,” Cárdenas adds. “Rehabilitative processes have been studied here in the U.S., but we don’t implement them. Solitary for juveniles is one of the worst things you can do to a young person’s brain, psyche, and abilities, [and] to their ability to feel that eventually, they are going to be cared for. When you do that to a young human being, you’re increasing the chance that they won’t be very well-suited when they get back out in society. It’s just a glaring example of what’s wrong with our criminal justice system.”

The Long-Term Effects of Solitary Confinement

It’s certainly true for Jaki, now 26. She says that today, she is too comfortable being alone, inside, in the dark. She’s reluctant to leave the house, even to do seemingly fun things like take her children to the park. Solitary ended up providing its own dangerous sense of comfort. The effects of having spent time in solitary, and in the system, have a lasting impact on her to this day.

“I don’t want anyone to ever think that’s OK to just be in a room by yourself,” Jaki says of her hope for seeing the practice banned everywhere in the U.S. “I do not believe [juveniles] should be in a room for the endless amount of hours and [be] treated like they’re nothing.”

For example, Jaki says it took her two years from the time she ultimately left detention to finally feel comfortable being in big crowds. Her experience of having been in solitary confinement left her wary of large groups of people and seemingly everyday socialization. The only place she really felt comfortable after getting out, she says, was in her room, by herself. Being isolated in a small, empty room eventually felt like home.

“For a kid to feel that was all they have — it messed me up,” Jaki says.

Since getting out of custody, Jaki has completed her GED and begun professional coursework. She has plans to train as a mortician with the hopes of starting a nonprofit where she can provide no-cost and low-cost mortuary services to families whose children have died while incarcerated.

Looking back on her time in the system, Jaki says she wishes that instead of being put into solitary confinement, she would have had access to family system–oriented counseling and therapy. Without therapy for both children and families, she says, no one is able to learn how to change behaviors and improve relationships.

“Sometimes It Was Unbearable”

Jesse De La Cruz was first arrested at the age of 14 for possession and sales of drugs, he tells Teen Vogue. At the age of 15, a more serious juvenile conviction got him sentenced to a state juvenile detention facility in California. He was in custody for four and a half years. During that time, he experienced room confinement multiple times. His longest stretch in room confinement lasted three months, he says, and had him alone in his cell for 23 hours a day (a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told Teen Vogue that the state’s juvenile justice system has since changed its policy on room confinement). For one hour a day he was allowed to either be outside or could shower. The outside area was fenced in — “like a cage,” Jesse remembers — and both outdoor time and showers were monitored by staff.

According to Jesse, he was being targeted while in general population by gang members, so placing him in solitary was the facility’s way of protecting him.

“Sometimes it was unbearable,” Jesse, now 26, says of his time in room confinement. He describes it as being placed in a “tiny” cell with a concrete slab and a small toilet. The little window in his cell had been blurred out, leaving him without any way to see the outside world.

His experience made it difficult for him to transition into more social situations afterward, both when he was introduced back into general population in the prison and when he exited the system and re-entered life on the outside. He says solitary left him uneasy around authority figures in particular. Even now, he says, “before I approach someone to talk to [them], I have to feed myself thoughts like, This is normal and this is regular.”

He says he wishes the practice of solitary for minors was banned everywhere. For those who experience it, he says, “you start building up negative thoughts about yourself, others, the world.”

The nonpartisan American Bar Association itself has published several pieces on its website coming out against the practice of solitary confinement for minors, including a recent piece that points to the developmental impact that solitary, even for short periods of time, can have on the still-maturing adolescent brain. According to the article, it is because of this that solitary does more damage to a juvenile brain than an adult brain, as teens’ brains are developmentally less able to cope with the psychological effects of isolation.

How Federal Laws Can Inspire States to Change

Cárdenas’s legislation might just signal some kind of tide shift on the practice. The congressman says his office has been receiving calls since he introduced the bill to ban solitary for minors on the federal level from those wondering how it would look at the state and local level.

“My team is always ready to help coach through to anyone who wants to make an argument for why this is something both Republicans and Democrats need to listen to and do something about in their own environment,” he says. “It’s encouraging that we’re getting these inquiries.”

When it comes to seeing juvenile criminal justice reform taken up on a broader level in the U.S., however, one thing that concerns Cárdenas is the actions and policies of the Trump administration. A member of Cárdenas’s office tells Teen Vogue that while Rep. Cárdenas has not asked to meet with President Trump on this issue yet — the congressman met with both Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the issue during their respective campaigns for the presidency — he hopes that President Trump will assemble members of Congress most actively involved in juvenile justice reform to discuss how to best implement policies. The congressman says he would certainly be open to attending such a gathering, should Trump call for one.

“I hope Trump does not change the executive order Barack Obama signed,” Cárdenas says. “I hope that someone on his team brings this issue to his attention that understands it from a fiscal vantage point. We spend $80 billion a year in this country on incarceration — not prosecution, not other facilities and other aspects of the justice system. Just incarceration alone costs $80 billion. If you’re a fiscal conservative, you should be for good juvenile justice reform to reduce the recidivism rate instead of opting to spend more money on incarcerating people.”

Thus far, Trump’s stance on juvenile justice reform has been mixed. While Trump did send his son-in-law and special advisor, Jared Kushner, to discuss criminal justice reform with several senators in March, he was vocal about the need to address what he called “American carnage” and “the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential” in his Inaugural Address back in January. The regression to this “tough on crime” language of the 1990s has only been bolstered by Trump’s pick of Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama senator, to lead the Department of Justice as attorney general. Sessions himself was not actively supportive of the JJRA reauthorization while in the Senate, and has already reintroduced the old sentencing regulations that have been abandoned by the Justice Department in recent years.

Teaching Change

What minors in the system need is the same as any other child — not to be locked away without any context, but to have someone to talk to, to help them understand themselves and their situation, ARC’s Cheryl says.

“Our approach to incarcerating children could look more like parenting to me,” Cheryl says. “If we don’t listen to our children and help them develop tools along with learning consequences, we miss the opportunity to truly teach.” She emphasizes that only isolating a child, for instance, is meaningless if a parent doesn’t also sit down with that child and teach them how to deal with difficult situations and emotions.

That’s why Cheryl insists that if a child is put into solitary, the system fails when “we just say, ‘You’re a bad kid.’ Why don’t we say, ‘What’s going on?’”

Jesse, who currently works and attends school full-time and hopes to get involved with community development or the foreign service some day, echoes Cheryl’s sentiment: “I feel that solitary confinement, if you spend enough time in there or all your time in there, there’s no positive. You’re not learning [anything].”

Jesse adds that a young person can’t be expected to grow or learn while in custody if you spend all of your time in complete isolation. Solitary confinement, he says, is an experience that denies young people the opportunity to make any kind of change in their behavior by restricting a person’s ability to interact with others and learn for the better.

While it remains to be seen whether Congress will pass the bill to ban solitary for minors on the federal level and whether state legislatures will follow suit with similar bans of their own if they haven’t already, Jaki says there is one big thing that can be done in the interim: talk to people like her about their experiences, give space for their stories, and allow them to be told in their own words.

Solitary confinement, Jaki says, “only changes you for the worse, but no one even wants to ask you about it. I don’t ever hear people having a conversation about what it is.”

Related: How the School-to-Prison Pipeline Works

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