Lawsuits to end abuses against children
April 23, 2006 LAWFUEL – Press Release Service – A multi-pronged and statewide drive to end inhumane and illegal conditions in California county juvenile halls has been announced today in San Francisco.
The drive began this morning with filing of a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court seeking orders that the state authority responsible for being a watchdog over juvenile halls – the Corrections Standards Authority (CSA) – fulfill its statutory duties and take action. The CSA, which is part of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), has failed to meet its responsibilities for many years, the suit alleges.
Advocates have also extensively investigated individual county juvenile halls around the state in recent months and are communicating with county officials to attempt to achieve voluntary compliance with the law. However, litigation over inhumane and illegal conditions may need to be filed against multiple counties within the next few weeks.
This new effort to reform California’s troubled juvenile justice system follows on the heels of the successful landmark litigation against the California Youth Authority (CYA). That litigation forced the state to sign a consent decree agreeing to transform the CYA into the kind of rehabilitative model that has dramatically lowered recidivism rates in states such as Washington and Texas.
During the CYA litigation, advocates learned that conditions in many California county juvenile halls are as bad as those in the CYA. Moreover, as the appalling conditions in the CYA were revealed, state and county officials shifted much of the juvenile population from the state (CYA) facilities to the county juvenile halls. Today, more than 10,800 youth are confined in county juvenile halls, camps and ranches.
Among conditions currently found in California county juvenile halls are the following:
• Severe overcrowding, with teen-agers sleeping on floors;
• School is often the exception rather than the rule;
• Teen-agers are held in isolation cells for over 23 hours a day and months straight;
• Hall staff use excessive force, including beatings and pepper spray;
• Violence and gangs are endemic;
• Mental health care and rehabilitative programs are virtually nonexistent; and
• Inappropriate administration of medications is a serious health risk.
“The Corrections Standards Authority is completely failing its statutory responsibility to protect minors housed in the county juvenile halls,” according to Mark A. Chavez of Chavez & Gertler. “Instead of exercising its oversight authority to require the counties to meet basic standards for humane treatment of juveniles, the CSA has allowed intolerable conditions to grow and fester through a combination of bureaucratic indifference and unwillingness to hold county officials to minimum legal standards,” Chavez said.
“The CSA is supposed to be a watchdog over the counties, but instead it essentially throws away taxpayer money while some counties harm the children in their custody,” said Sara Norman of the nonprofit Prison Law Office.
“California law expressly requires that a juvenile hall not be ‘treated as a penal institution’ but rather be ‘a safe and supportive homelike environment,’” states Richard Ulmer, a partner in the Silicon Valley office of Latham & Watkins. “But many juvenile halls in the state are more like penitentiaries than homes.”
“The young people in some of California’s juvenile detention facilities are being unnecessarily subjected to harsh and punitive conditions,” said Monty Agarwal, a partner in the San Francisco office of Bingham McCutchen. “These children deserve the humane and rehabilitative treatment that the law mandates.”
Lawyers from Latham & Watkins, the Prison Law Office, Bingham McCutchen and Chavez & Gertler are all participating in the litigation against the Corrections Standards Authority. Various combinations of these law firms are investigating conditions in the individual county juvenile halls.