HRDC, Legal Aid Society settle Florida juvenile solitary confinement suit
For Immediate Release
November 15, 2018
Anna Susman / (646) 200-5285
AGREEMENT TO END SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AND PROVIDE EDUCATIONAL SERVICES TO JUVENILES REACHED WITH PALM BEACH COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE, SCHOOL BOARD
First-of-its-kind settlement in Florida ends systemic practice of holding juveniles charged as adults in solitary confinement and ensures educational services
PALM BEACH, FL – In an unprecedented victory for incarcerated juveniles in Florida, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to effectively end solitary confinement at its jail facility. Both the Sheriff’s Office and the Palm Beach County School Board will also ensure that all juveniles receive access to appropriate educational services. All juveniles will receive schooling outside of their cells and alternative behavior management policies will be employed in lieu of holding juveniles in solitary confinement. The Sheriff’s Office and School Board also agree to independent monitoring by Plaintiffs’ counsel and their experts to ensure compliance with the Settlement Agreement.
The class action lawsuit was filed in federal court on June 21, 2018, by the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, and the law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC on behalf of all juveniles who were held at the Palm Beach County Jail inside small cells for upwards of 23 hours a day for weeks, months and in some cases over a year. Many of these juveniles suffered from mental health disabilities that were exacerbated by the conditions of their confinement and long-term isolation and reported having auditory and visual hallucinations and suffering from severe depression.
According to the suit, the plaintiffs, none of whom had yet been convicted of a crime, were also denied proper educational services while in confinement, receiving only packets of school work under their cell doors or having brief conversations with a teacher standing outside the locked door. The children with disabilities were also denied other services and accommodations needed to address their educational needs, in violation of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
On October 1, 2018, the U.S. Deferment of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in the case to affirm and clarify the protections afforded to juveniles with disabilities under IDEA, stating, “both Defendants are responsible for ensuring that eligible children with disabilities at the jail receive special education and related services. Defendants cannot avoid responsibility by claiming that the other is responsible.”
Plaintiffs’ counsel believes the settlement serves to underscore the unconstitutional nature of solitary confinement of juveniles and will have enormous effects on how such practices are being employed by other jurisdictions in Florida and throughout the nation.
“The extreme idleness, sensory deprivation, and lack of human interaction perpetuated by these solitary confinement policies leads to physical suffering and severe psychological damage, especially to children,” said Sabarish Neelakanta, Litigation Director for the Human Rights Defense Center. “The widespread overuse of solitary confinement nationwide is causing lasting, irreparable harm to vulnerable populations, like the children held in Palm Beach County, and the evidence shows that these polices do not increase prison safety or deter criminal behavior. This settlement, rather, is affirmation that safe and sensible alternatives to solitary confinement exist and serves as framework for reform.”
The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges have all called for the end of juvenile solitary confinement leading several states and jurisdictions to implement changes to their housing and classification policies for juveniles. The United Nations has found that more than 15 days of solitary confinement constitutes a form of torture.
“Solitary confinement is an archaic practice that has been proven to be detrimental to those individuals held within the cell walls. Children are especially susceptible to the toxic nature of solitary confinement,” said Melissa Duncan, supervising attorney of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County’s Education Advocacy Project. “We are pleased that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and School Board of Palm Beach County are willing to take steps needed to address the harmful conditions of solitary confinement and ensuing lack of access to appropriate education.”
“This settlement goes beyond just ending juvenile solitary confinement because it addresses the many issues that come along with it—including the denial of education and irrevocable harm that countless hours alone can have on a young person,” saidTheodore J. Leopold, lawyer for the plaintiffs’ and Co-Chair of Cohen Milstein’s Complex Tort Litigation and Consumer Protection practices. “We hope this settlement serves as a model in similar cases, in Florida and across the nation, and ends the inhumane policy of solitary confinement for juveniles.”
The terms of the settlement provide injunctive relief regarding juvenile solitary confinement and education at the Palm Beach County Jail, including:
- All juveniles will be permitted outside of their cells in order to participate in schooling and juvenile programming;
- All juveniles will have access to daily recreation and showers;
- The Sheriff’s Office will implement an alternative behavior management policy to minimize or eliminate the use of any kind of segregated housing, as well as expand the accommodations available to juveniles for schooling or juvenile programming;
- The School Board will be required to have a School Based Team meeting or Individual Education Plan meeting for each juvenile, as well as subsequent quarterly meetings for each juvenile. These meetings will address any challenges to the juveniles’ learning and result in a plan of intervention services to improve educational progress.
- Both the Sheriff’s Office and the School District will participate in weekly meetings to ensure that juveniles are receiving proper mental health care and access to education and juvenile programming;
- Finally, the Sheriff’s Office and School District agree that monitoring of the Settlement Agreement will include site visits, interviews, and reviews of records concerning disciplinary reports, grievances, mental health services, and educational services.
The case is H.C. v. Bradshaw, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern Districtof Florida, Case No. 9:18cv80810.
The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC advocates on behalf of prisoners, publishes books and magazines concerning the criminal justice system, and engages in state and federal court litigation nationwide on prisoner rights issues, including wrongful death, public records, class actions, and Section 1983 civil rights cases. For additional information, visit www.humanrightsdefensecenter.org, or call 561-360-2523.
Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC is recognized as one of the premier law firms in the country handling major, complex plaintiff-side litigation. With more than 90 attorneys, Cohen Milstein has offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Ill., Denver, Colo., New York, N.Y., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Philadelphia, Pa., and Raleigh, N.C. For additional information, visit www.cohenmilstein.com or call 877 515-7955.
The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County is committed to providing high quality civil legal advice, representation, and education to disadvantaged individuals in Palm Beach County so as to protect their personal safety, enhance their opportunities and living conditions, and promote self-sufficiency. Legal Aid’s work helps clients deal with many of life's most basic needs: a safe home, enough food to eat, a quality education, and protection against exploitation and discrimination. For additional information, visit www.legalaidpbc.org or call 561-655-8944.