MARTINEZ (KCBS) – Two federal agencies have jumped into the legal fight over the treatment of young people with mental disabilities at Juvenile Hall in Martinez.
At issue is Contra Costa County’s policy of locking disabled kids in solitary confinement. A class action lawsuit was filed last August by Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates against the county Probation Department and Contra Costa Office of Education.
“Many of these kids have mental health disabilities. This is obviously sometimes why they end up in juvenile hall,” said Mary-Lee Smith, Disability Rights Advocates’ managing attorney. “And the only thing that juvenile hall knows to do is sort of a knee-jerk response, to lock them away for longer and a more confined situation in their room.”
Some were detained in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day in tiny cells.
Now, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education have filed statements with the federal court, telling the county agencies to accept responsibility for the care and education of the disabled inmates, and to quit blaming each other.
“Stop the finger pointing, because basically, neither defendant is willing to take full responsibility for their legal obligation,” said Smith.
County officials said they could not comment on pending litigation, but they hope the federal case will be dismissed next month.
The county Probation Department runs juvenile hall, and the Contra Costa Office of Education runs the Mt. McKinley School inside the facility.