G.F. et al. v. Contra Costa County et al.

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Disability Rights Advocates in partnership with Public Counsel filed this lawsuit because Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall had a policy and practice of locking young people with disabilities in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day and depriving them of education.

In a video, parents of young people held at Juvenile Hall say that Contra Costa County is denying them education and contributing to their mental illness. California law protects the privacy of young people and their families in the juvenile justice system so we have withheld their faces and names.

“Juvenile Hall has taken a kid who’s made a mistake and completely tried to take all of his hopes and dreams,” said “Cici C.,” the mother of W.B., who was held in solitary confinement. W.B. suffered a mental breakdown after solitary confinement and was found smearing feces on the wall. He was hospitalized for three weeks and eventually released from Juvenile Hall. W.B. is still struggling with mental health problems today.

Q.G. has been in Juvenile Hall for nearly three years, falling farther behind in school. In full-time special education since first grade, he received no mental health services and only cursory special education services for his learning and visual problems. “It’s hard with me going to see your child every week, and he’s like ‘Mommy, why am I still here? Why am I not getting those services?'” said his mother “Barbara. C.

“Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall routinely and frequently locked up kids with disabilities in solitary confinement,” said Mary-Lee Smith, Director of Litigation at Disability Rights Advocates. “It did so without even inquiring into whether the child has a disability that may be worsened in solitary confinement.” When on the strictest levels of solitary confinement where kids were held in tiny cell for 23 hours a day, Juvenile Hall deprived them of any education at all, including special education. In so doing Contra Costa County denied not only education but also hope for the future.

Following extensive negotiations, the parties were recently able to reach unprecedented settlement agreements with Contra Costa County and the Contra Costa County Office of Education. Under the settlement agreement with the Contra Costa County Probation Department, the County will no longer use solitary confinement (also known as room confinement) for discipline, punishment, administrative convenience, retaliation, staffing shortages, or reasons other than a temporary response to behavior that threatens immediate harm to the youth or others. In line with national standards, the County may segregate a youth in his or her room for no more than four hours but only if the youth’s behavior threatens immediate harm to themselves or others. After four hours, the Probation Department must remove the youth from confinement, develop specialized individualized programming for the youth, or assess whether the youth should be transported to a mental health facility. Under the settlement agreement with the Contra Costa County Office of Education, the County Office of Education will retain an outside expert to evaluate its compliance with federal and state special education laws and to ensure that the students with disabilities in Juvenile Hall receive the special education that they need. The expert will make recommended revisions to policies, procedures and practices as they relate to Child Find, development and implementation of individualized education plans, and discipline, which the County’s Board of Education will adopt.

“At a time when the nation is re-evaluating the use of solitary confinement, this settlement is of extraordinary public importance,” said Smith. “In Contra Costa County, the draconian practice of solitary confinement will come to an end and the focus will be, as it should, on education and rehabilitation. Our hope is that other facilities across the nation will follow suit.”

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