ACLU, Illinois DJJ Move Forward on Remedial Plan


ACLU, Illinois DJJ Move Forward on Remedial Plan.

ACLU, Illinois DJJ Move Forward on Remedial Plan

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The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union have reached agreement on a comprehensive remedial plan to address the issues first raised in a September 2012 lawsuit and confirmed in a December 2012 consent decree signed by both parties.

The plan to reform how the department handles mental health, confinement, community placement, safety issues and education services, approved by U.S. Judge Matthew Kennelly on April 7, is the latest step forward in the resolution of the lawsuit RJ vs. Bishop. Many of the specific provisions were informed by a series of expert reports that were made public last September and addressed numerous systemic deficiencies.

For example, the psychiatric and mental health report, authored by Dr. Louis J. Kraus of Northrbrook, Ill., stated that the department lacked a full complement of services, the security necessary to provide such services and a regular time-frame over which to provide them.

“No matter how many groups are described as evidence-based, and no matter how much support is being described for these groups, they are not actually functioning consistently,” Kraus wrote, based on site visits to all six Illinois Youth Center facilities, visual inspections, confidential interviews and document reviews. “The reality is that many of these youth are not getting the mental health support they need.”

The remedial plan spells out numerous staff positions that IDJJ will need to either add, upgrade or fill, as well as policy changes covering areas like mental health records, individual treatment plans, medication consent, immediate requests for mental health care and special issues related to LGBTQ care.

Attorneys for both sides said they believe the remedial plan — and the ongoing review from Kennelly, which he asked to have formally added to the plan — will address the issues raised in the initial ACLU lawsuit from 2012 as well as the expert reports from 2013.

“It’s a great thing. There are 18 paragraphs that call for implementation of policies, and all policies have to go to the judge for his review,” said Adam Schwartz, lead attorney for the ACLU. “The plan says there are required staffing levels and required service levels. The department has to meet that. The plan has a schedule.”

The required staff-to-youth ratios can be met one of two ways, Schwartz said. “You can change the numerator or you can change the denominator,” he said. “We are hopeful that the number of youth locked up continues to drop.”

The ACLU doesn’t know specifically how many new positions will need to be filled or what the added expenditures might be, said Lindsay Miller, staff attorney. “What we’ve done in creating this plan is to set up enforceable ratios and a plan to develop staffing ratios,” she said. “Certain of these positions are important and needed, in order to ensure that facilities are providing minimally adequate services in order to comply with the constitution.”

The IDJJ looks forward to moving forward with the remedial plan, said Alka Nayyar, department spokeswoman. “We certainly have work to do, and I think it’s important to note that we want to make sure that the department and our staff have the resources and support to meet the requirements ahead,” she said.

IDJJ didn’t necessarily agree with every dotted “I” and crossed “T” in the expert reports, said Beth Compton, general counsel. “There were certainly, as with any analysis where you’ve got someone external coming to do visits, and for, relatively speaking, short periods of time … there are always things you have to go back and clarify and discuss further,” she said. “We certainly had those kinds of conversations, which led to the remedial plan, which all parties agreed addressed the specific concerns.”

IDJJ has begun conversations with the state legislature about additional resources that would be needed to fill or create new positions and otherwise comply with the remedial plan, although the department hasn’t calculated a precise number of full-time equivalent line-items or a dollar amount to pay for them, Compton said. The department has until 2017 to meet some of the requirements and plans to phase in changes; step one will be the security staffing needed, which IDJJ is incorporating into its budget request for FY 2015, she said.

“There are a lot of things in the remedial plan that weren’t necessarily new positions,” Compton said. “Or we may already have had budgetary capacity, and it’s just a matter of creating the positions. It’s really a mix of needed new positions, filling existing positions, which includes already budgeted headcount, and reducing the [youth] population.”

The department already had been moving forward on some of the policy-related changes contained in the remedial plan, Compton said. “We’ve been prepared for quite some time,” she said. “Certainly there are challenges with reform, such as implementing training, and this is not to suggest that this is an easy process. But we’re prepared for it.”

Mental Health Services

The mental health stipulations in the plan specify at least eight staffing positions: a licensed physician medical director who will oversee health care services at all facilities, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist who will oversee psychiatric services in all facilities, and treatment unit administrators at each of the six Illinois Youth Center facilities, who will have a minimum of a PhD or PsyD degree as well as state licensure. IDJJ has 180 days to fill each of these positions….

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