Incarcerated Youth with Disabilities Gain Equal Access to Rehabilitation and Education
Disability Rights Groups Reach Class Action Settlement with Kern County Juvenile Facilities
(Bakersfield, CA) – On June 5, 2020, a federal court approved the final settlement reached between the Parties on behalf of youth with disabilities detained at Kern County Juvenile Facilities, who were represented by Disability Rights California (DRC) and Disability Rights Advocates (DRA).
The original class-action lawsuit, filed in 2018 challenged ongoing discrimination against young people with disabilities held at Kern County’s juvenile detention facilities. The complaint alleged that, rather than offering a safe and supportive environment required under California law to promote rehabilitation, the facilities punish, isolate, and intimidate the young people in their care, while depriving them of crucial educational and rehabilitative opportunities.
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.
“We are pleased that the parties were able to come together to develop the Settlement Agreements, which will improve the lives of hundreds of youth with disabilities detained in Kern County – now and in the future,” said DRA Supervising Attorney Thomas Zito. “We are hopeful that the changes agreed to in the Settlement Agreements can serve as an example for other institutions across the country.”
“The County has responded very responsibly to our investigation since the beginning,” said Melinda Bird, Litigation Counsel for Disability Rights California. “The Settlement Agreements build upon the changes the County and the Superintendent of Schools have already made and commit it to further reforms to improve conditions for the youth.”
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.
Disability Rights California (DRC) – Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) – With offices in New York and California, Disability Rights Advocates is the leading nonprofit disability rights legal center in the nation. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with all types of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to education, health care, employment, transportation, disaster preparedness planning, voting, and housing. For more information, visit https://dralegal.org