NorCal Juvy Hall Accused of Abuses

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Contra Costa County locks up disabled youths for months without education, puts them into abusive solitary confinement, and punishes them for looking out the tiny window in their cells, their guardians claim in a federal class action.
     Plaintiffs include G.F., 14, who participates in the Girls in Motion Program, and has been locked up in Juvenile Hall in Martinez since she was 13; W.B., 17, who has been declared incompetent by Juvenile Court and has been in Juvenile Hall for 15 months; and Q.G., who has been in Juvenile Hall for 2 years and 9 months.
     Their guardians ad litem claim the children have been subjected to barbaric conditions for extended periods without the education to which they are entitled by law.
     Named as defendants are Contra Costa County, its Probation Department, its Office of Education, and four county officials: Chief County Probation Officer Philip Kader, Juvenile Hall Superintendent Bruce Pelle, school Superintendent Joseph Ovick, and Director of Contra Costa County Court Schools Lynn Mackey.
     The Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall is a 290-bed, maximum-security detention facility in Martinez. It provides temporary detention for youths waiting for hearings and for sentencing to treatment or rehabilitation programs, according to the complaint.
     It is also the last stop for youths in the Youthful Offender Treatment Program and the Girls in Motion Program.
     The systems used inside the jail are archaic and exacerbate the disabilities of youths who are systematically denied education that is mandated by law, according to the complaint.
     “Cells in Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are prison-like,” the complaint states. “They are extremely small without even enough room to exercise. There is a toilet, sink and bed. The bed is a cement block with a pad on it. The cell does not have bars but rather a solid door with a small window in it. The window is about as wide as a hand and long as an arm. Youth who look out their window while in their cell are subject to discipline by probation staff.”
     Despite state and federal education laws, the Probation Department gives supervisors the power to restrict school attendance, “as a punishment,” according to the complaint.
     “There is also a disciplinary measure that may be employed by the County’s Office of Education teachers, known euphemistically as ‘room time,'” the complaint states. “If a teacher believes that a student has not completed sufficient work while in the classroom or has committed some other infraction, the teacher may request that that student be placed on ‘room time.’ At the teacher’s discretion, the discipline may occur during school, in which case the student is sent to his/her cell instead of attending school. It may also occur when a student might normally be allowed out of his/her cell (e.g. after dinner). Instead, the student must stay confined in his/her cell. Regardless of when the punishment occurs, the student is not given any school work to complete.”
     Conditions in solitary confinement are even worse, split into levels called “maximum security,” “security risk” and “special program,” according to the complaint.
     “Much like the cells, the solitary confinement policies of Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are like that from an adult detention facility,” the complaint states. “There are various levels of solitary confinement know as ‘Security Programs.” According to the Probation Department, these are used as ‘a disciplinary measure for those residents who have violated major rules, demonstrate a pattern of repetitious minor rule violations, or who present an immediate physical threat to another person.'”
     Children are put into solitary for uncertain, “highly subjective” reasons, the guardians claim. Some “violations,” including the “patterns of repetitious rule violations,” are complicated by the security programs themselves, according to the complaint.
     “Defendants knowingly place youth with disabilities, such as mental illness, cognitive impairments and ADHD, in solitary confinement, which leads to the deterioration of these disabilities,” the complaint states.
     A lot of this is against the law, the guardians say.
     “Defendants have abdicated their core responsibility of providing education and rehabilitation, not punishment, to youth with disabilities who are detained at the Contra Costa Juvenile Hall. The violations of detained youth’s rights and illegal deprivations of educational and rehabilitative service at juvenile hall are rampant and widespread, yet defends have allowed them to persist,” the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs seek an injunction, rectification of the abuses, and damages for violations of state and federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Disabilities Education Improvement Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the California Education Code for Special Education Requirements, and the code for General Education Requirements.
     Their lead counsel is Mary-Lee K. Smith, with Disability Rights Advocates, of Berkeley.

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