Contra Costa County puts special-ed juveniles in solitary, suit says

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Advocacy groups on Thursday filed a class-action federal lawsuit against Contra Costa County’s juvenile hall, alleging that some youths with disabilities are being denied educational services and held in solitary confinement for 23 hours per day -- in some cases for months.

The Los Angeles-based Public Counsel and Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates teamed with a private law firm to bring the lawsuit, contending that while one-third of students at the county juvenile hall are deemed by authorities to have disabilities requiring special education, many do not receive those or related services. When they act out as a result, they are confined in their cells.

The California Supreme Court has determined that the state’s juvenile halls exist “solely for the purpose of rehabilitation and not punishment.” Education is widely viewed as central to youth rehabilitation.

“Despite knowing that many students have a learning disability, mental illness, or other disabilities, Contra Costa County puts students in solitary confinement for behavior that is related to their disabilities, denies them general and special education services, and holds them in conditions that can make their disabilities worse,” the organizations said in a statement.


Among the youths cited in the suit are G.F., a girl who entered juvenile hall at age 13 and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and ADHD. She spent approximately 100 days in solitary confinement, where she often received no education, let alone special education, the suit contends.

The lawsuit also relays the experience of W.B., a 17-year-old boy who was found mentally incompetent by the juvenile court. He was placed in solitary confinement for 90 days and “deteriorated rapidly. … He began hearing voices, was talking to himself, and believed he was being poisoned, yet he was kept in solitary. Eventually he had a severe psychotic episode, during which he smeared feces on the cell wall and was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility for three weeks. He is now back at juvenile hall.”


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