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$657,670 Settlement in Ohio Juvenile Facility Class-action Suit

Less than a year after the filing of a federal civil rights class-action, a settlement was reached in the lawsuit, which challenged conditions of confinement at the Washington County Juvenile Center (WCJC) in Marietta, Ohio. In October 2011, the parties to the suit submitted a consent decree for approval by the district court.

Under the terms of the settlement, damages of more than $400,000 will be disbursed among the class members; the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Al Gerhardstein and Jennifer Branch, will receive fees and costs in the amount of $220,000; and corrections expert Steve Martin will be appointed as a monitor “to promote and assist the parties in achieving compliance” with the injunctive relief provisions of the settlement. The consent decree will remain in effect for one year with an extension of six months permitted if the monitor finds the defendants have not substantially complied with the remedial measures specified in the settlement.

The WCJC consists of two girls’ bedrooms (each accommodating five girls), three boys’ bedrooms (each accommodating five boys), day rooms, classrooms, offices, programming space, a dining room, a kitchen and a gym. There are also four “observation cells” – one on the girls’ side of the facility and three on the boys’ side – used for intake, suicide observation, isolation and detention. Video cameras monitor all four of those cells.

The class members covered by the lawsuit include all youths (under the age of 20) “who have been, are now, or will in the future, be held in custody” at WCJC.

The injunctive relief provisions prohibit WCJC from confining youths in detention cells for longer than 24 hours unless a mental health practitioner recommends such placement for suicide watch purposes.

The remedial measures further provide that a youth held in detention between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. shall be allowed a minimum of one hour of recreation time in the gym, and staff may not use physical restraints on such youths except when they are transported outside the facility.

Under the terms of the consent decree, the defendants will establish a “privacy zone” around the shower and toilet areas of the detention cells, so that, except in cases of suicide watch, the video cameras will not monitor those areas. The defendants also agreed not to conduct cross-gender searches of juveniles except in emergency situations.

With respect to medical and mental health care, the defendants agreed to the appointment of a physician as WCJC’s medical director, who will provide medical evaluations for youths “at least once every week,” ensure that medical cover-age is provided at all times, train staff in the proper implementation of policies and procedures, improve intake screenings, and improve identification and treatment of youths at risk of committing suicide.

Additionally, the defendants are not to use “for-profit entities as community service sites” for juveniles required to perform community service work, shall “make a good faith effort to provide some form of Non-Christian religious services to youth seeking same” and “will end the practice of ordering parents/custodians to pay child support or social security to the County’s General Fund.”

Class members held in detention cells beyond 24 hours per incident and not released for school classes are eligible to receive $40 to $60 for each day held in detention after the first 24 hours; those placed in a suicide gown while in detention without having been assessed by a mental health practitioner are eligible to receive $160 per day; and class members in detention who had to wear shackles in the detention cell or while participating in recreation or school are eligible for $50 per day. The eight class representatives will each receive $2,500.

According to the consent decree, the defendants “shall also provide the total sum of $100,000.00 to be used to compensate all of those class members who can establish serious and significant physical and/or emotional personal injury such as pain and suffering due to delayed medical or mental health care, or actions by staff.”

The consent decree was heartily endorsed by co-counsel for the class members, Al Gerhardstein, who stated, “I commend Washington County for addressing our concerns promptly and working with us to remedy the problems at the Center.”

On November 21, 2011, the district court approved the establishment of a qualified settlement fund and the appointment of a fund administrator, and approved the parties’ stipulation of dismissal of the case after the defendants had paid the “agreed upon initial amount” of $650,170 plus $7,500 for the administrator’s fees and expenses into the fund.

The fund administrator filed a status report with the district court on July 31, 2012 that stated the settlement fund had been fully funded, and that 100 payments had been issued to class members totaling over $215,000. Other claims remain pending. See: D.D. v. Washington County, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ohio), Case No. 2:10-cv-1097-EAS-TPK.

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Related legal case

D.D. v. Washington County