Legal Aid Society of NYC slaps NYS OCFS with class-action lawsuit
On behalf of approximately 500 youths who suffered mental and physical harm while "warehoused" in New York's juvenile prisons, the Legal Aid Society of NYC slapped NYS Office of Children and Family Services (NYS OCFS) with a class-action lawsuit naming Commissioner Gladys Carrion and 47 "John Doe" employees as Defendants.
The class-action suit was filed in federal court in Manhattan on the heels of reports from the United States Department of Justice and a state task force appointed by Governor David A. Paterson that exposed the problems of physical and mental abuse throughout the system. The class-action lawsuit lists 8 juveniles as Plaintiffs (by initials only) to represent all those held in intake and "limited secure" facilities.
The suit seeks an injunction that would sharply limit the use of force by youth counselors and require the state to provide the youths with more treatment for mental health problems, which affect a vast majority of those in custody.
The lawyers are also seeking unspecified monetary damages from employees who, the suit alleges, abused or mistreated eight youths currently in the custody of the Office of Children and Family Services.
The employees are identified only as John Does Nos. 1 through 47 and the eight youngsters by their initials. The suit charges that at least some of the children were threatened with retaliation if they made any complaints to the workers’ superiors.
The lawsuit was filed by the Legal Aid Society of New York City, which provides legal representation to a vast majority of juveniles who end up in the state’s youth prisons. Besides the employees, the suit names Gladys Carrión, the agency’s commissioner.
“Once sent to an O.C.F.S. facility, these children find themselves far from their families, behind barbed wire,” said Tamara A. Steckler, a Legal Aid lawyer working on the lawsuit. “They need a helping hand to meet their mental health and other service needs, but instead they get the back of the hand when they are subjected to the excessive use of force or are denied mental health services.”
The state youth prisons are already operating under the threat of a federal takeover as state officials negotiate with the Department of Justice over a plan to fix the system’s worst problems: the overuse of physical force, inadequate psychological and drug abuse counseling, and substandard education.
Ms. Carrión issued new rules limiting the use of force against youths soon after she took office in 2007, and has since pushed to shut many of the prisons where violence had been a significant problem. But she has faced resistance — and sometimes sharp criticism — from public employees’ unions, which say that she has understated the risks those policies pose to workers.
A spokesman for Ms. Carrión said the agency had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit and could not comment.
In related news, this Author recently lost on Appeal an Article 78 proceeding filed in Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, Fourth Department against Niagara County Department of Social Services and New York State Office of Child and Family Services-details of this story will follow later.
Read previous NYS OCFS coverage on NowPublic, here.