Disability rights advocates have agreed to reopen the state-owned Boys State Training School in Eldora to reopen the controversial, locked unit that once isolated children as a form of punishment.
The Iowa Department of Human Services, which operates the home for adolescents in need, is prohibited by a court order from keeping children overnight in the unit’s individual, locked rooms that function as cells. In light of a recent surge in violence, the DHS has asked a federal judge for permission to change the order to allow the facility to keep juveniles in locked cells overnight.
Disability Rights Iowa and other groups that took DHS to court in 2017 to secure the order announced to a federal judge this week that they have agreed to support – but will – support the proposed reopening of the unit called Corbett Miller Hall several provisions that are designed to protect all young people who could be housed there.
Under the conditions:
- Overnight stays would be temporarily permitted during a two-year pilot program and only in connection with an intensive therapeutic program and only for young people with significant problems.
- The guidelines developed by DHS to implement the pilot program must be approved by both a court-appointed, independent observer and the court itself.
- The device is only used for therapeutic purposes and not as a punishment.
- The use of isolation, seclusion and restraint will remain restricted at the school according to the existing guidelines.
The first draft of the proposed new policy for Corbett Miller Hall is due to be submitted to the Monitor by December 1 of this year, with the final draft submitted to court for approval no later than February 15, 2022.
The DHS may arrange overnight stays in the unit before the political work is completed, but only if the court-appointed monitor determines the unit and the staff is prepared and only if other conditions are met. Including: A sticker must be placed on each door of the unit reminding that juveniles cannot be locked in a room while on watch and that they can file a written complaint if they have concerns about their treatment.
Before DHS can resume nighttime use of the unit, the facility must also complete implementation of the planned physical improvements at Corbett Miller Hall, which are designed to make the individual cells less “corrective” and more comfortable for the youths housed there.
The agreement between the stakeholders and the DHS has yet to be approved by the court.
The Boys State Training School was subject to court-ordered surveillance following a lawsuit brought against the DHS in 2017 for inadequate mental health care for the adolescents housed and trained there.
The case was settled in 2020 when U.S. District Judge Stephanie M. Rose held DHS liable for violations of children’s constitutional rights at the school. She wrote that the agency’s use of a restraint “shocked the conscience” and “tortured” it.
Rose ordered the state to implement a detailed recovery plan to improve the school’s practices, staffing, training, and internal oversight. She also appointed Dr. Kelly Dedel, a juvenile justice consultant, to oversee state compliance with this remedial plan.
Dedel recently reported in court that the problem of increased violence this year “appears to be caused by good faith efforts to eradicate harmful practices” used by staff in the past without a new strategy for dealing with it to implement with adolescents with recurring aggressive behavior. “This started a vicious cycle in which violence and disorder hamper the development and implementation of the very practices designed to improve conditions in the school,” she wrote.
Dedel also told the court that “the current level of violence and disorder at (the school) has completely derailed service delivery and the” significant risk of harm to youth and staff requires quick action, “she wrote. “The violence at (school) has serious consequences for the affected and injured young people and employees.”
There were 25 to 50 assaults at Boys State Training School every month in the first quarter of 2021 – roughly one or two assaults a day, every day, for three months, according to court records. The average rate of youth-on-youth assaults at the facility in the first quarter was more than five times higher than in 2018 and 2019, and the rate of assaults on employees was similar.
Last month, Wendy Leiker, the then superintendent of the Eldora facility, suggested the purchase of $ 128,000 in new furniture for the Corbett Miller Hall to create a “friendlier atmosphere.” The DHS announced this week that Leiker had resigned during a confidential personnel investigation effective August 7th. The agency did not provide any information.