T.G., et al. v. Kern County, et al.
On February 22, 2018, Disability Rights Advocates, in partnership with Disability Rights California (“DRC”), released a 50-page report on our 6-month investigation of the treatment of youth with disabilities at the Kern County Juvenile Hall and other Kern County juvenile detention facilities. Our investigation uncovered abuse and neglect of youth with mental health and behavioral disabilities in these facilities. We found that youth with disabilities have been disproportionately subjected to pepper spray, dangerous prone restraints, and solitary confinement, and that youth have been denied their special education rights and provided with inadequate mental health treatment.
In association with the investigation and report, DRA and DRC also filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Fresno, California on behalf of three youth confined in the Juvenile Hall and Crossroads facilities. DRA, DRC, the County, and the Superintendent of Schools have agreed to a stay of the federal lawsuit while the experts study the Kern County system and make recommendations.
On December 4, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California preliminarily approved a class action settlement, and on June 5, 2020, final approval was granted.
Under the settlement agreements, Kern County will transition its three juvenile facilities “from a corrections model to a treatment model” which will involve modifying their policies, practices, and procedures to ensure that youth with disabilities are identified and tracked, housed in a safe and supportive homelike environment, provided reasonable accommodations, and given equal access to educational and rehabilitative programs and services. They will also create new roles for staff tasked specifically with increasing rehabilitative programming, improving youth interactions with staff, and reducing the use of force incidents – including reducing use of chemical and physical force.
The Kern County Superintendent of Schools, who operates the schools at the juvenile facilities, will hire additional staff to enhance the education, special education and related services offered to youth, as well as to train staff around mental health diagnoses and behavior, de-escalation strategies and restorative practices.
The Settlement Agreements require experts to monitor compliance and prepare reports that DRC and DRA will review, provide feedback and perform monitoring visits during the Term of the Settlement Agreements. The Settlements will terminate once the 3-year Monitoring Term has expired and final Monitoring Reports are issued.
These settlements will improve the conditions for all youth detained by Kern County. Youth with disabilities will be identified and offered educational and rehabilitative services, and there will be more programming provided for all youth. Importantly, measures like training staff on the trauma experienced by incarcerated youth and on de-escalation techniques will improve staff-youth interactions, reduce use of force on all youth, and provide a more supportive environment for all youth. Similarly, improvements in general education services, including grouping students by ability level and improved post-secondary opportunities for those who have graduated, will serve all youth in the facilities.