DJJ- In Contempt of Court?
Last week I attended a case management hearing for the ongoing Farrell v. Cate case regarding the abusive and unconstitutional conditions at California’s youth prisons. The case was filed in 2003 to address a wide range of abuses within California’s youth prisons including excessive force, lack of educational and health services and solitary confinement. The lawsuit resulted in a consent decree in which the DJJ acknowledged that the level of care at DJJ facilities amounted to cruel and unusual punishment based on constitutional standards. Several remedial plans were agreed upon to fix these problems. However, almost 10 years later many of the same problems remain.
During the hearing, the judge heard from the DJJ administrators as well as the Prison Law Office attorneys who filed the case. The hearing centered around the issues discussed in the court appointed Special Master’s recent report including Sexual Behavior Treatment Programs, the excessive use of force by guards against mentally challenged youth and youth with disabilities, the recent issues at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility and the recent motion filed by the Prison Law Office asking the court to hold the DJJ in contempt for failing to comply with the remedial plans.
The Special Master’s report confirmed some of what we’ve been hearing from Books Not Bars family members about youth being beaten up and pepper sprayed regularly even when they pose no threat, that some have been denied food as punishment for their behavior and that when they file grievances against guards they are often lost or ignored. After listening to both parties very closely, it was clear that Judge Tigar was growing weary with the DJJ’s continued excuses and rationalizations regarding the lack of compliance with the Farrell consent decree.
When the DJJ argued that there simply isn’t enough money available to make the required changes, the judge responded by pointing out that we spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars per youth in the DJJ and asked “Where is the money going?!”
With regards to excessive force, the DJJ asked for another year to train all of their staff to stop using excessive force, even though this training has been available to them since 2008. The judge rightfully commented that it has been years and years that the DJJ has been trying to meet these “bare minimum standards” and that every day that passes our youth are dealing with conditions that fall below the standard of care required by the Constitution.
Unfortunately, the judge stopped short of holding the DJJ in contempt for failure to comply with the consent decree, stating that he wasn’t sure it would be effective in achieving the desired results. This made me stop and wonder, “What will it take?” This case has continued for 10 years. Plaintiffs have exhausted every possible remedy, the court has issued hundreds of orders that have not been followed, experts have made recommendations that the DJJ hasn’t implemented and the Special Master has issued almost 20 reports chronicling the DJJ’s consistent failures. Enough is enough. The DJJ has demonstrated that it’s broken beyond repair. After nearly a decade unsuccessful reform efforts, its time to shut down the DJJ!
Join our efforts to organize the largest network of families of incarcerated youth and champion alternatives to California’s costly, broken youth prison system. Start by standing up against the use of solitary confinement in the DJJ.
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