Feds join CA juvenile jail lawsuit

Photo of hands holding prison bars.
Right to Education in Juvy

The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education filed a Statement of Interest on February 13 in a class-action lawsuit challenging the Contra Costa County Juvenile Jail’s treatment of youth with disabilities.

The maximum-security facility, located near the San Francisco Bay Area, holds 290 youth with disabilities, 32.7 percent of whom are eligible for special education services pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Many of these youth are locked in solitary confinement, meaning they are held in isolation for as many as 23 hours a day.

In August 2013, Disability Rights Advocates, along with Public Counsel and Paul Hastings LLP, sued Contra Costa County for systematic violations of the IDEA, specifically in regard to its alleged failure to provide special education services to these youth while at the facility.

The lawsuit also accused the county of systematically violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, highlighting the jail’s disproportionately higher number of inmates with disabilities.

The DOJ and the DOE agree with both of these assertions. As described in the statement, the County’s Department of Probation argues it has no control over education policy and thus argues it is not bound by the IDEA. Conversely, the Education Department argues the Department of Probation has sole authority over the youth at the jail, meaning that it is not required to provide them special education services.

“In short, an entity covered under the ADA or the IDEA cannot escape its legal obligations by contracting or delegating them to another entity, or by allowing another entity to interfere with carrying out its responsibilities,” the DOJ and DOE said in the Statement. “Both Defendants attempt to do just that here, with the apparent hope of leaving no one responsible for the discrimination and denial of special education and related services alleged by Plaintiffs.”