Thursday, December 16, 2010
ACLU-NM Sues CYFD for a Second Breach of Contract for Failing to Implement Reforms
Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) filed a second lawsuit against the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) for failing to implement key reforms in the juvenile justice system. In 2006, CYFD entered into a contract with ACLU-NM, agreeing to improve safety and mental health services for youth in its juvenile justice facilities. In 2007, ACLU-NM filed suit for breach of contract and reached a settlement agreement in late 2009. Now, one year later, conditions in CYFD facilities are still out of compliance with juvenile detention best practices and basic standards of safety, according to information released by the ACLU-NM.
“CYFD hasn’t lived up to the 2009 Agreement,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson in a written statement. “CYFD agreed to implement the Missouri model of juvenile detention and to change its policies and procedures before the end of 2010 to correct the biggest problems. Although there have been important improvements regarding mental health treatment, CYFD has not yet accomplished either of those promises.”
Under the terms of the 2009 settlement agreement, CYFD agreed to work with three neutral experts to ensure that reforms were implemented. The three experts all reported during November 2010 that many of the requirements of the agreement have not yet been achieved. Their reports show:
- CYFD has not yet implemented the Missouri model “Cambiar New Mexico” at all of its facilities;
- Twice, CYFD intentionally deceived the neutral medical monitor to give the false impression that CYFD had a quality improvement program that was effectively identifying and correcting problems with medical care;
- The Office of Quality Assurance (the system CYFD agreed to establish to ensure oversight and accountability) has not yet been fully established. Since 2009, the office conducted only two inspections, half its employee positions are vacant and it is not yet performing effectively;
- In violation of the agreed procedures, detention facility staff still lock youth in their rooms, including youth with mental disabilities;
- The administrators of the juvenile justice system are not effectively managing juvenile justice services.
The 2009 agreement is set to expire on December 31, 2010, but the ACLU of New Mexico is asking the court to extend the agreement so that youth in CYFD custody may actually reap the full benefits of the reforms.
“The ACLU would have sued earlier,” said Simonson, “But CYFD concealed from the neutral experts and from the ACLU a number of the deficiencies which were identified in the last month and a half. CYFD must be held accountable for the implementation of the agreed reforms; the well-being and safety of the youth in their custody depends on it.”
ACLU-NM Co-legal Director Phil Davis, ACLU-NM cooperating attorney Peter Cubra, and Alice Bussiere and Maria Ramiu of the Youth Law Center in San Francisco represent the plaintiff in this case.