Lawsuit alleges statewide
Juvenile Hall abuses
From Law Offices of Latham & Watkins
April 19, 2006
A multi-pronged and statewide drive to end inhumane and illegal
conditions in California county juvenile halls has been announced
today in San Francisco.
The drive began this morning with filing of a lawsuit in San
Francisco Superior Court seeking orders that the state authority
responsible for being a watchdog over juvenile halls - the Corrections
Standards Authority (CSA) - fulfill its statutory duties and take
action. The CSA, which is part of the California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), has failed to meet its
responsibilities for many years, the suit alleges.
Advocates have also extensively investigated individual county
juvenile halls around the state in recent months and are communicating
with county officials to attempt to achieve voluntary compliance
with the law. However, litigation over inhumane and illegal conditions
may need to be filed against multiple counties within the next
This new effort to reform California's troubled juvenile justice
system follows on the heels of the successful landmark litigation
against the California Youth Authority (CYA). That litigation
forced the state to sign a consent decree agreeing to transform
the CYA into the kind of rehabilitative model that has dramatically
lowered recidivism rates in states such as Washington and Texas.
During the CYA litigation, advocates learned that conditions
in many California county juvenile halls are as bad as those in
the CYA. Moreover, as the appalling conditions in the CYA were
revealed, state and county officials shifted much of the juvenile
population from the state (CYA) facilities to the county juvenile
halls. Today, more than 10,800 youth are confined in county juvenile
halls, camps and ranches.
Among conditions currently found in California county juvenile
halls are the following:
- Severe overcrowding, with teen-agers sleeping on floors;
- School is often the exception rather than the rule;
- Teen-agers are held in isolation cells for over 23 hours a
day and months straight;
- Hall staff use excessive force, including beatings and pepper
- Violence and gangs are endemic;
- Mental health care and rehabilitative programs are virtually
- Inappropriate administration of medications is a serious health
"The Corrections Standards Authority is completely failing
its statutory responsibility to protect minors housed in the county
juvenile halls," according to Mark A. Chavez of Chavez &
Gertler. "Instead of exercising its oversight authority to
require the counties to meet basic standards for humane treatment
of juveniles, the CSA has allowed intolerable conditions to grow
and fester through a combination of bureaucratic indifference
and unwillingness to hold county officials to minimum legal standards,"
"The CSA is supposed to be a watchdog over the counties,
but instead it essentially throws away taxpayer money while some
counties harm the children in their custody," said Sara Norman
of the nonprofit Prison Law Office.
"California law expressly requires that a juvenile hall
not be 'treated as a penal institution' but rather be 'a safe
and supportive homelike environment,'" states Richard Ulmer,
a partner in the Silicon Valley office of Latham & Watkins.
"But many juvenile halls in the state are more like penitentiaries
"The young people in some of California's juvenile detention
facilities are being unnecessarily subjected to harsh and punitive
conditions," said Monty Agarwal, a partner in the San Francisco
office of Bingham McCutchen. "These children deserve the
humane and rehabilitative treatment that the law mandates."
Lawyers from Latham & Watkins, the Prison Law Office, Bingham
McCutchen and Chavez & Gertler are all participating in the
litigation against the Corrections Standards Authority. Various
combinations of these law firms are investigating conditions in
the individual county juvenile halls.
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