ACLU of New Mexico Sues for Better Safety and Services in Juvenile Justice Facilities

Affiliate: ACLU of New Mexico
November 19, 2007 12:00 am

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ACLU of New Mexico
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ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico sued the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) today for failing to ensure safe living conditions and essential rehabilitation services for young people in state juvenile justice facilities. The lawsuit charges CYFD with breaching the terms of a contract it signed with the ACLU in February 2006 requiring the agency to establish minimally adequate mental health services and protect youth from physical assaults and threats of violence. CYFD entered into the 2006 agreement in order to avoid being sued for rights violations at that time, said the ACLU.

“This lawsuit seeks to make sure that youth in our juvenile justice system get a fair shot at redirecting their lives and overcoming mistakes they made in their past,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “New Mexico puts its most troubled kids in prison because we don’t have adequate mental health services. Kids are unnecessarily incarcerated and our juvenile detention facilities become training grounds for lifelong criminals instead of centers of genuine rehabilitation.”

Filed in Santa Fe District Court, the ACLU’s lawsuit seeks two basic reforms:

The establishment of minimally adequate community mental health services for the 3,000 children and youth on probation or parole due to delinquent acts, in order to avoid the unnecessary incarceration of youth due to their mental illness; and

A Fundamental improvement of the safety, medical care and mental health care provided to the approximately 300 children and youth held in delinquency facilities.

The lawsuit cites several instances of guard-on-youth violence, including a March 2007 incident in which staff at the Santa Fe County Juvenile Detention Center assaulted a 17-year old resident who is developmentally delayed and suffers from auditory hallucinations. Guards picked the youth up by his armpits and repeatedly slammed his head into a metal classroom door. CYFD rejected a complaint that the ACLU filed on the resident’s behalf, except to criticize staff for failing to videotape the “take down.”

Simonson said, “Hopefully your children don’t wind up in one of these facilities. But if they do, you want to know that the staff is going to protect them, not brutalize them. You want to know that they’re going to get the tools they need to address emotional problems and make productive behavioral adjustments.”

Representing the ACLU are attorneys Daniel Yohalem and Lee Hunt of Santa Fe, ACLU Co-Legal Director Phil Davis of Albuquerque, and Alice Bussiere and Maria Ramiu of the Youth Law Center of San Francisco. Yohalem is former Legal Director for the Children’s Defense Fund.

A copy of the complaint can be found online at:

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