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Settlement Pending in Lawsuit Over Solitary Confinement at a St. Joseph County Juvenile Center


— September 6, 2019

A lawsuit filed against the St. Joseph County Juvenile Center over allegations it put mentally disabled minors in solitary confinement may settle soon.


A lawsuit involving allegations that the St. Joseph County Juvenile Center may have put a variety of children suffering from mental illnesses in solitary confinement may be on the brink of settlement. All that needs to be done for the settlement to pass is for the County Council and Commissioners to approve a tentative agreement drawn up by attorneys in the case. As part of the settlement, the juvenile center will also have to implement changes in its procedures and treatment with mentally ill children.

Front of the Second St. Joseph County Courthouse in South Bend, Indiana
Front of the Second St. Joseph County Courthouse in South Bend, Indiana; image courtesy of
Calvin Beale via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org

The lawsuit itself was first filed back in 2017 by Tashianne and Quanan Wilburn. According to the couple, their 11-year-old son, “referred to as Z.W. in court documents because he is a minor,” was regularly placed in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours each day. During that time, he had no access to “paper, books, pictures and with no ability to attend classes.” As a result, the parents alleged the center’s actions towards their son were “unconstitutional and violated federal education and disability laws.”

When describing their son’s treatment, the Wilburn’s suit said:

The JJC has embraced the frequent and arbitrary use of solitary confinement of children…the center also denied Z.W. and other juvenile detainees with disabilities access to special education services and disability services.”

The couple went on to explain that the solitary confinement meant their son had the endure “frequent periods of isolation, including a week straight of solitary confinement.” Additionally, even though Z.W. was diagnosed with an emotional disability, learning disability and language impairment, he was allegedly denied “special education services as required by federal law.” To make matters worse, the suit claims the minor was “cut off from in-person or telephone contact with his parents.”

Soon after the suit was filed, it evolved into a class-action lawsuit that may now include anywhere from 600 to 800 children “who were detained at the Juvenile Justice Center since 2016, when the confinement policy was instituted.” It is important to note, however, that all those children would be ineligible for a financial reward. Instead, “the class action portion of the suit relates to potential changes in policy at the JJC and addition of more mental health specialists.”

At the moment, the settlement is due to be approved by September 16. As part of the agreement, the juvenile center may receive “an additional $800,000 to $900,000 for mental health professionals and other reforms at the center, in addition to payment to the Wilburn family over Z.W.’s confinement.”

Sources:

Lawsuit against St. Joseph County over solitary confinement of kids may be settled

Lawsuit alleges solitary confinement at JJC violated 11-year-old’s rights

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