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Consent Decree and Remedial Plan End Lawsuit Challenging Conditions in Illinois Juvenile Facilities

Consent Decree and Remedial Plan End Lawsuit Challenging Conditions in Illinois Juvenile Facilities

by Matt Clarke

On September 12, 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) helped juvenile offenders held in secure facilities operated by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) file a class-action federal lawsuit alleging that conditions in the facilities violated the youths’ Fourteenth Amendment due process rights and their rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The suit settled on December 6, 2012 with the parties agreeing to a consent decree and remedial plan, which was approved by the district court in April 2014.

Chicago attorneys Adam Schwartz, Harvey Grossman, Benjamin S. Wolf and Ruth Z. Brown of the Roger Baldwin Foundation of ACLU, Inc. and Maja C. Eaton, Kevin M. Fee, Jr. and Joseph R. Dosch represented the five named plaintiffs and approximately 1,000 youths incarcerated in DJJ facilities. They filed a federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1966 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201, et seq., challenging deficiencies in conditions, services and treatment throughout the DJJ.

Specifically, the suit alleged that the DJJ failed to provide juveniles with minimally adequate mental health, general education and special education services, failed to provide post-secondary education in seven of the eight DJJ facilities, improperly imposed excessive room confinement for disciplinary infractions that did not involve actual or threatened violence, imposed confinement in unsanitary rooms, imposed room confinement on youths with medical conditions, failed to protect juveniles from assaults by other youths or staff, used pepper spray excessively, and continued to confine youths who had been granted parole because appropriate community placement had not been secured and approved. The lawsuit blamed many of these problems on inadequate resources and staffing.

The terms of the consent decree resolving the lawsuit included the appointment of three experts jointly proposed by the parties. The experts will investigate mental health services, general and special education services, room confinement, safety issues and commitment beyond release dates due to lack of community placement. They were given 180 days to complete their report on those five areas, after which the defendants had 60 days to file a draft remedial plan.

The remedial plan must ensure the provision of adequate mental health services to all DJJ youths, including intake screening and assessment of individual and confidential treatment by mental health professionals as well as aftercare and discharge planning. It must also ensure adequate general education and special education services to all youths who require such services, regardless of status or security classification. The plan must include “adequate constructive, supervised rehabilitative services,” including physical education, recreational activities and work during non-school hours.

As part of the remedial plan, the policies, staff training, supervision and physical conditions of room confinement at DJJ facilities will be revised with limitations on when and for how long room confinement can be imposed. Further, it will include appropriate policies, staffing, staff training and supervision to ensure the safety of juveniles from physical assaults by other youths or staff. This includes restrictions on when chemical agents may be used and requirements for reporting suspected use of force by DJJ staff members. The plan will also contain provisions to minimize the continued confinement of youths who have been granted parole.

Following approval of the remedial plan, the three experts will become court-appointed monitors. DJJ facilities can avoid further monitoring once they have been found in compliance for one year. Lastly, the defendants were required to pay the monitoring costs as well as the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs.

On April 7, 2014, the federal district court approved a remedial plan presented by the parties that requires the DJJ to hire a licensed physician to serve as the agency’s medical director; to hire a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist; to establish “appropriate staffing levels and qualifications of mental health professionals to deliver individual and group therapy based on youths’ diagnostic needs and services called for in each youth’s individualized mental health treatment plan”; and to take other actions with respect to mental health care.

Additionally, the remedial plan requires the DJJ to “provide full-time, full day instruction on all scheduled school days in each facility. Specifically, DJJ shall make available at least five hours of instruction per day, on all scheduled school days, to all youths committed to the DJJ, regardless of their status or security classification,” with certain exceptions, and to take other measures related to educational services.

Further, the DJJ “shall, within 180 days of entry of this remedial plan, rewrite its policy regarding use of confinement and restricted movement” for juvenile offenders, and impose limits on confinement for behavioral management as well as mental health crisis, medical and investigative confinement. The use of mechanical restraints on youths in DJJ custody was restricted.

The district court awarded $307,666 in attorney fees and costs for work performed by plaintiffs’ counsel up to the date of the consent decree, plus $195,000 for subsequent work to the date of approval of the remedial plan. The court’s monitoring of the consent decree and remedial plan remain ongoing. See: R.J. v. Bishop, U.S.D.C. (D. Ill.), Case No. 1:12-cv-07289.

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Related legal case

R.J. v. Bishop