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Iowa gets rid of restraint device and cut seclusion at Boys State Training School

State appeals judge's order to pay nearly $5 million in attorney fees after losing class-action abuse lawsuit

The administration building at Eldora Boys Training School on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The administration building at Eldora Boys Training School on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

A restraining device called “the wrap” is gone. Staff at the Boys State Training School in Eldora are now using seclusion rooms only in cases when a boy is at risk of seriously harming himself or others. And the school has hired more mental health counselors.

These actions were all part of a 25-point remedial plan ordered by a federal judge as part of a class-action lawsuit against the school.

“We are very pleased with the steps that the state has taken so far to comply with the court’s order,” Harry Frischer, lead counsel at Children’s Rights, said in a statement this week. “The wrap and windowless solitary confinement cells are a thing of the past. We hope that the school will continue to improve and meet the timetable for the reforms required by the court.”

The Boys State Training School, opened in 1873, is a residential school for delinquent boys ages 12 to 18.

In March, U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose ruled the state training school violated students’ constitutional rights by not providing adequate mental health care, using isolation as punishment and putting students in a mechanical restraint device called “the wrap,” sometimes for hours at a time.

Rose said there was “overwhelming evidence showing the school frequently punishes or tortures students through these tools for behavior not meeting such conditions.”

That decision came after a bench trial in a class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 by two then-students and other “similarly situated” boys of the school in Eldora.

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Rose appointed Kelly Dedel, a juvenile justice consultant, to monitor the remedial plan. Dedel reported this month the school is already in “substantial compliance” with seven of 25 requirements and was making progress toward the rest.

The school “has developed a robust set of policies and procedures that, once fully implemented, should transform the services available to youth ... and the tools available to staff who are charged with their care and treatment,” Dedel wrote.

Last month, Rose awarded nearly $5 million in attorneys fees and expenses to the plaintiffs in the case. Of that, about $2.5 million goes to Children’s Rights, a New York advocacy and legal action group; $1.8 million goes to Ropes & Gray, a Boston law firm; and about $593,000 to Disability Rights Iowa, based in Des Moines. For the more than 23,000 hours the groups worked on the case, it amounts to about $214 an hour.

Attorneys representing the state argued the plaintiffs’ attorneys overstaffed hearings and filed excessive paperwork. Rose disagreed in her Jan. 22 order: “After careful review of the time sheets submitted by the Plaintiffs, the Court is convinced the hours requested are reasonable and were not excessively inefficient.”

Iowa is appealing the award.

Because the lawyers from Disability Rights Iowa and Children’s Rights are part of a nonprofit organization, the fees go to their organizations to replenish the budgets to advocate for more cases in Iowa and elsewhere, said Nathan Kirstein, lead counsel at Disability Rights Iowa.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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