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Judge Orders Changes To Treatment At State School For Boys

John Pemble
IPR file photo
A federal judge's order includes limiting the amount of time residents are placed in isolation and to no longer use a physical restraint device called “the wrap."";

The Iowa Department of Human Services must expand mental health treatment at the Boys State Training School in Eldora, a state-run school for delinquent teenage boys.

A federal judge is also ordering staff members at the facility to limit the amount of time residents are placed in isolation and to no longer use a physical restraint device called “the wrap,” which U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose equated with torture.

“It can traumatize youth in the first instance, and retraumatize youth that have previously suffered trauma,” Rose wrote in her ruling. “For students who have been physically or sexually abused, the loss of control they feel in the wrap replicates the feelings they suffered when abused. It is not rehabilitative and creates an increased risk of mental deterioration while students are in the device.”

Rose ordered DHS to remove the restraint from the facility within 10 days.

Attorneys for the state argued during a trial last summer that the school only used solitary confinement and restraint as a way to calm residents when they were violent. Nathan Kirstein, an attorney with Disability Rights Iowa, which worked with the residents in the lawsuit, said the techniques often had the opposite effect.

“They do not calm a resident, they escalate a resident,” Kirstein said. “When they escalate a resident to that point then you’re going to end up with more dangerous behavior.”

Students of the facility filed a lawsuit against the Iowa Department of Human Services in 2017, claiming their physical treatment and the lack of proper mental health care at the Boys State Training School violated their due process rights.

DHS has 45 days to submit a plan to fill gaps in mental health treatment, including lining up services for when residents leave the school. The agency must appoint a monitor to oversee the changes. DHS officials have said more treatment is now available.

“I think with the court’s supervision, with an appropriately appointed monitor and with time this situation could get better,” Kirstein said. “I think it’s going to depend also on the leadership and whether they’re willing to be compliant.”

A spokesperson said DHS is working with the Iowa Attorney General’s office to determine its next steps.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa