On Thursday of this week, the ACLU of So Cal, Public Counsel, the Disability Rights Legal Center announced the settlement of a landmark class action lawsuit filed in mid-January of this year, charging that LA County Probation’s largest juvenile probation camp, known as Challenger, had failed to provide the kids locked up within its boundaries with even the most basic kind of education. (Nevermind that it costs more than $50,000 a year to incarcerate a kid at Challenger.)
January’s lawsuit, filed also against he Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), described conditions inside the camps as “conscience-shocking.” As lead attorney Mark Rosenbaum put it, it was “a scandal of dimensions that would make Dickens shudder.”
Quite frankly, Rosenbaum was not speaking at all in hyperbole.
The stories detailed in the legal filing, plus the anecdotal tales I’ve been privy to since the suit was filed, live up to that description and then some.
A kid who spent his high school years at Challenger, received a “diploma” even though he was so functionally illiterate he couldn’t read street signs or the simplest words on a restaurant menu. Nonetheless, a specially designated teacher spoon-fed the kid answers so that he could pass the state-mandated exam, thus getting him a diploma—which he couldn’t read. (And he was one of many.) (Frank Stoltz of KPCC did a good report at the time of some of the individual cases.)
Kids were locked in solitary confinement for months with no instruction at all, excluded from class repeatedly for minor infractions, allegedly forced to stand outdoors for hours in 100 plus degree heat, and on and on.
In the class, state standards were not enforced, and there appeared to be no teacher accountability so teachers simply showed movies or failed to show up at all at times.
Oh, and by the way, this was the new and improved situation at Camp Challenger, which—at the time of the January lawsuit—was already the target of a United States Department of Justice investigation over mistreatment of the 650 students housed in the facility.
Okay, that’s the bad news.
BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS
The good news is that, under new probation Chief Donald Blevins, the lawsuit has been settled, with an entire action plan of hardcore but extremely constructive conditions attached to the settlement.
Furthermore, the settlement was one that both Blevins and company and the ACLU and partners truly seemed to jointly welcome. Thursday’s joint press conference was an absolute “love fest,” as one observer put it.
Love fest or no, the agreement has teeth in that it will be overseen by a federal judge for four years, just to make double sure that the planned reforms are fully implemented. (Not that anybody’s untrusting, or anything.)
One more thing, this week’s settlement also provides reading and educationally remedial instruction for the 2500 or so kids who were denied adequate education from 2008 until now at Challenger.
The latter structure only allocates around $2,000-$2500 a kid, which isn’t going to go far for some. But it’s a start. And that is a very good thing.
AND IN OTHER LEGAL NEWS….JUDGE RULES RESIDENCE LIMITS FOR SEX OFFENDERS IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL
The LA Times Andrew Blankstein has the story. Here’s a clip:
California corrections officials this week stopped enforcing portions of Jessica’s Law in Los Angeles County after a judge ruled that the 2006 statute restricting how close sex offenders can live to parks or schools is unconstitutional.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza concluded that the controversial measure left sex offenders in some areas with the choice of being homeless or going to jail because the law restricts them from living in large swaths of some cities such as Los Angeles.