ACLU of New Mexico Wins Agreement to Overhaul State Juvenile Justice System
ALBUQUERQUE – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center today announced a settlement agreement with New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department that requires sweeping improvements in security, mental health programming, and rehabilitation services in juvenile detention facilities across the state. It also mandates the closure of the troubled New Mexico Boy’s School in Springer.
“The ACLU had two key aims in this litigation,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “We wanted to protect the safety of children in CYFD’s facilities and make sure that youthful offenders in our state get a fair shot at putting their lives back on a positive track. We think this agreement has the potential to transform our juvenile detention facilities from warehouses of problem kids to centers of genuine rehabilitation.”
While the threat of the ACLU’s litigation was the spur to action, according to ACLU cooperating attorney Daniel Yohalem, CYFD Secretary Mary Dale Bolson and her team "have shown great leadership and responsibility in agreeing to redraw the future for New Mexico’s juveniles.”
“If the agency faithfully implements the groundbreaking plan of action contained in the agreement, fewer children will need to be placed in custody because new community-based services will be available," Yohalem said. "Rehabilitation and safety will become much more available to those children who are placed in custody.”
Highlights of the 36-page settlement agreement include:
- Transfer of all 107 youth currently housed at Springer to other facilities around the state
- Improved security in all CYFD facilities, including the installation of security cameras, increased ratios of staff to youth in all living units, and elimination of the practice of isolating youth from programs and general population as a means for ensuring safety
- Development of comprehensive behavioral health screening and treatment programs headed by separate directors for facility-based and community-based behavioral health services and adequately staffed by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals
- Requirements that female youth be granted comparable access to services and programs as male youth
- Creation of classification and placement procedures to ensure that youth are located in the most appropriate settings in CYFD facilities
- Creation of an Office of Quality Assurance that will independently monitor the compliance with CYFD policies and investigate all serious internal grievances
The settlement, which Yohalem described as comprehensive and innovative, will
affect over 500 youth that are now on probation or housed in juvenile facilities
run by CYFD.
“In many ways, what this agreement does is break open the ‘closed’ corrections approach and put decision-making in the hands of mental health and corrections professionals rather than in the hands of jailers,” Yohalem said. “From now on CYFD will try to place kids in facilities that allow them to keep in touch with their families and communities. And they will have to provide behavioral health services and other programming in the least restrictive setting possible.”
In addition to Yohalem, ACLU attorneys included Peter Cubra, Phil Davis, Larry Kronen, and Lee Hunt. Alice Bussiere represented the Youth Law Center.
“Even though we settled the lawsuit, the ACLU’s job is just beginning,” Yohalem added. “For the next four years, we’ll be monitoring CYFD’s progress very carefully to make sure that all the reforms are fully implemented.”