Feds Address Contra Costa Juvenile Hall’s Use of Solitary Confinement…a Call for LASD Oversight…and DCFS Simulates Home Visits for Social Worker TraineesFebruary 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker
JUSTICE AND EDUCATION DEPTS JUMP INTO LAWSUIT AGAINST CONTRA COSTA’S ISOLATION PRACTICES IN JUVENILE HALL
Both the US Department of Justice and Department of Education has intervened in a federal lawsuit challenging Contra Costa County’s solitary confinement of mentally disabled kids, and the lack of education provided to them while in isolation. A statement of interest by the DOJ and DOE requested that the presiding judge deny motions to dismiss the case and asked that both departments be able to take part in the oral arguments.
The Contra Costa Times’ Matthias Gafni has the story. Here’s a clip:
The Justice Department’s filing quoted findings from a departmental task force that concluded:
“Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.” It said such confinement could lead to “paranoia, anxiety and depression” and creates a risk of suicide.
The lawsuit was filed last August by Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates, along with a pro-bono law firm and a private firm, on behalf of a teenage girl and two boys, all of whom were or are still detained at the maximum-security, 290-bed Martinez facility.
In March, a San Francisco federal judge will rule whether to grant class-action status to the suit, allowing other disabled youths to sue the county Probation Department, which runs juvenile hall, and the Contra Costa Office of Education, which runs the McKinley School inside the facility.
An attorney representing the teens said the solitary confinement policy is from the “Dark Ages.”
“We do know that Contra Costa is probably one of the worst,” said Marie-Lee Smith, Disability Rights Advocates’ managing attorney. “There are many counties that do not use solitary confinement. It’s very troubling and very disturbing to see a county continue to use this form of discipline.”
Smith said it was extremely rare for the Justice Department to weigh in on a lawsuit, and even more unusual for federal education officials to join. In a Feb. 13 filing, the feds voiced concerns over using solitary confinement to punish detained youths, citing a 2002 Department of Justice study finding such treatment led to mental problems and even additional suicide attempts.
Unlike jails for adults, under state law juvenile halls are required to provide a “supportive homelike environment” and focus on rehabilitation, not punishment. Punishments based on a youth’s disability must be treated differently from other discipline, and facilities must provide schooling, including special education, even if youths are being disciplined, according to state law.
The suit also alleges the county fails to provide adequate special education opportunities for all disabled youths.
(The LA Times’ Lee Romney also reported on this issue.)
EDITORIAL: THE LASD TROUBLES ARE NOT OVER YET
So far, 20 members of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. have been indicted as part of a federal investigation, and there are almost surely more indictments to come. Sheriff Lee Baca retired abruptly at the end of January, and the LA County Board of Supervisors chose OC Undersheriff John Scott to take over as interim sheriff until the November election (or the June primary, at the earliest). Moreover, all the recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence are—at least theoretically—on their way to being implemented.
But do these things herald the end of an era of LASD corruption and misconduct scandals?
In an LA Times editorial, Robert Greene says the crisis isn’t over yet, not by a long shot, and won’t be until there is permanent and meaningful oversight of the department. It is time to really start the discussion, he says. Here are some clips:
…We are not done. The system did not work. The system, in fact, is at the core of the culture that pervades the Sheriff’s Department even in years in which the anguish of abused inmates and their families, the outrage of deputy cliques with their own gang-like tattoos and codes of silence, the astonishing number of deputies arrested for drunk driving don’t make it to the headlines or don’t catch the interest of voters.
The system of an elected sheriff in a county of 10 million people, the vast majority of whom aren’t served by his deputies and need not pay attention to his department’s travails, is an anachronism.
But of course, that invites a host of questions: If the sheriff isn’t elected, who should appoint him? Would the Board of Supervisors, also protected by a veneer of democracy without facing any serious electoral challenge, do a better job of running the Sheriff’s Department than the sheriff? Would the supervisors be better at picking a sheriff than they were in recent years at picking a chief probation officer or a director of the Department of Children and Family Services? What is the value of added accountability if the sheriff merely is subject to the direction of others who are virtually unaccountable?
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion last September, when Baca was still in office and still considered likey to be reelected, that would create a five-member citizens oversight commission, appointed by and reporting to the Board of Supervisors. Gloria Molina seconded it. But Ridley-Thomas has repeatedly pulled the matter from the agenda, suggesting a struggle to find a third, and winning, vote.
The matter is on the calendar to come before the board again next Tuesday — but to date there has been little public discussion of the proposal’s merits and pitfalls.
It’s time for that discussion. Some of it must necessarily be wonky, dealing with balances of power and political theory; and some of it must be mercilessly pragmatic (why, for example, would any elected sheriff ever pay such a commission any mind?)…
NEW SIMULATION ROOM PREPS DCFS WORKERS FOR THE CHALLENGES OF REAL LIFE HOME VISITS
As part of the LA Department of Children and Family Services training system overhaul, new social workers are sent into a simulation house where role-players reproduce home visit scenarios to prep the social worker trainees for the realities of protecting LA’s 35,000 DCFS-involved kids.
DCFS has also increased the total training time social workers receive from 8 weeks, to a full year of instruction before being sent out in the field.
The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here are some clips:
Entering a home where a father may have broken his baby’s arm in a drunken rage, the rookie social workers tried to soften the family’s guarded apprehension — albeit not always successfully.
“I’m with the Department of Family and Children’s Services,” one nervously told the sullen man who opened the door, even incorrectly stating the name of their agency.
Another rookie sat hesitantly on a couch in a cluttered living and dining room, not noticing the scissors on a coffee table, which could have been used as a weapon had tensions escalated.
Fortunately, no one was in real danger.
The “home” is a simulation laboratory where trainers from the county’s Department of Children and Family Services can collaborate with teachers from various universities as well as law enforcement and legal consultants to help the next generation of social workers.
“It’s OK to make mistakes here,” academy instructor Beth Minor told a class, standing next to a prop refrigerator with a whisky bottle and flyer for Alcoholics Anonymous.
“When you go out in the field and it counts, we want you to take the lessons that you learned here, and apply them.”
Cal State Los Angeles agreed to build a 440-square-foot residential simulation laboratory with a facade, living and dining room adjacent to the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and hallway closet for about $17,000. University officials also allowed trainers to use a second simulation lab, resembling a hospital room, that was built years ago for medical courses.
“The simulation is the cornerstone of the new training,” said Harkmore Lee, director of Cal State Los Angeles’ Child Welfare Training Center and a former social worker. “This is where their learning becomes concrete, and also where we can assess whether they’re getting it or not.”
Research has shown that people typically retain from 5 percent to 10 percent of what they learn through reading and lectures, and 80 percent to 90 percent of what they practice in simulation, said James Ferreira, Cal State Long Beach’s Child Welfare Training Center director.