Isolation is Elder Abuse


False imprisonment and forced isolation in long-term facilities are shamefully common.  Residents are denied visitors, phone calls, and mail.  Law enforcement may not recognize isolation as a form of abuse.  In some cases, law enforcement facilitates isolation abuse.

A San Bernardino County facility unlawfully imprisoned and isolated a resident for 15 months. The Sheriff’s Department determined the abuse was a civil matter.  The investigating deputy threatened to arrest the daughter if she tried to visit her mother.  He threatened to charge the daughter with a crime if she filed complaints.  

A Deputy DA stated:

There is nothing out of the ordinary.

A Santa Clara County facility unlawfully imprisoned and isolated a resident for 2 years.  San Jose Police Department and a Deputy DA determined the abuse was a civil matter.  Department of Social Services determined that isolation was not a violation of the resident’s rights.

Existing Law:

California’s Penal Code 368(c) states in part:

Any person who knows or reasonably should know that a person is an elder or dependent adult and who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any elder or dependent adult to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering . . . is guilty of a misdemeanor.  (Emphasis added)

Welfare and Institutions Code 15610.07 provides a broader definition of abuse.

"Abuse of an elder or a dependent adult" means either of the following:
Physical abuse, neglect, financial abuse, abandonment, isolation, abduction, or other treatment with resulting physical harm or pain or mental suffering.  (Emphasis added)

WIC 15610.43 defines isolation as actions: 

…for the purpose of preventing the elder or dependent adult from having contact with family, friends, or concerned persons.

 The discrepancy in language leads law enforcement and prosecutors to determine that isolation abuse is a civil matter.  Some victims remain unlawfully imprisoned and isolated for years.  Some elders are denied contact with loved ones until death.


Incorporating the WIC 15610.07 definition of elder abuse into Penal Code 368 could facilitate a greater understanding of false imprisonment and isolation as crimes.  Law enforcement and prosecutors would have improved guidance that isolation constitutes abuse within the legislative intent of Penal Code 368.