Monday, November 27, 2017



Nathan Kirstein, 515-278-2502 x25, (Iowa media)

Wende Gozan Brown, 646-216-3329,  (national media)



(Des Moines, Iowa)—State officials are knowingly employing unconstitutional and illegal practices at the Boys State Training School in Eldora, Iowa, causing lasting harm to youth with significant mental illnesses, according to a federal class action lawsuit filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. The lawsuit names as defendants Jerry Foxhoven, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS); Richard Shults, administrator of the Division of Mental Health and Disability Services; and Mark Day, superintendent of the Boys State Training School.

The complaint paints a grim picture of a facility that has no full-time licensed mental health professionals on staff. Instead of providing necessary mental health treatment, workers at Eldora, as it is known, rely heavily on potentially harmful psychotropic medications administered without appropriate oversight or consent—as well as solitary confinement and a full-body mechanical restraint—to control youth who typically have not been convicted of any crime. Two non-profit legal organizations, Disability Rights Iowa (DRI) and Children’s Rights (CR), are seeking a court order to prevent policies and practices that violate their constitutional and federal statutory rights.

CR and DRI assert that these boys, aged 12 to 19, do not receive the mental health treatment needed to fulfill the facility’s mission of providing “a program which focuses on appropriate developmental skills, treatment, placements and rehabilitation.” For example, children with mental illnesses have been placed in solitary confinement for raising their voices, arguing with other children, talking while taking a shower and failing to clean up.

The complaint outlines the experiences of several named plaintiffs:

  • R., 16, who needs intensive therapy with a licensed practitioner, but instead is receiving brief telephonic “sessions” that don’t follow recommendations for his therapeutic needs. He has been given at least six psychotropic medications since June 2016, without appropriate controls or consent. He has been placed on suicide watch at least 27 times, usually after tying clothing around his neck and threatening to kill himself. He was restrained for 77.53 hours in a seven-month period—including 67 hours in the full body restraint, often as punishment for self-harming behaviors.


  • S., 16, has been diagnosed with a number of conditions and has reported auditory hallucinations. He began exhibiting suicidal ideations and behaviors at Eldora, but is consistently denied access to needed mental health services and instead is given psychotropic medications for treatment. J.S. has been placed on suicide watch several times after harming himself while in solitary confinement. During a period of 11 months, J.S. was placed in solitary 81 times for a total of over 580 hours, and he was subject to restraints 22 times in 10 of those months.


  • P., 16, has multiple psychiatric diagnoses and a history of depression and suicidal ideation. He also has several severe medical conditions that make his mental health treatment more complex. Despite his mother advocating for him, he is consistently denied therapies that may prove effective. He suffers severe side effects from the psychotropics he routinely receives, including constantly licking his lips, which his mother worries is a symptom of dyskinesia.


“The issues raised in the lawsuit will come as no surprise to the state,” added Nathan Kirstein, attorney with Disability Rights Iowa. “Officials have had multiple opportunities to make changes, and yet they have brushed them aside as though these kids don’t count. The state is required to act as parent, but no responsible parent would treat a child as Eldora does. These youth are there for rehabilitation and treatment—but they receive the exact opposite, and the facility’s harmful tactics are destroying lives.”

“Children with mental health needs should not be thrown in solitary confinement as punishment, or silenced with dangerous medications without proper oversight,” said Harry Frischer, lead counsel at Children’s Rights. “They require tailored psychological and therapeutic supports to have a real chance of growing into fully integrated, productive members of the community. The tactics employed at Eldora are archaic and run counter to the national and professional consensus in the treatment of children in juvenile detention facilities. They are also flat-out harmful and unlawful.”

 The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of all children confined to the Boys State Training School now or in the future and who have significant mental illnesses. CR and DRI assert violations of Plaintiffs’ right to substantive due process as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, as guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

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Full Complaint Available Here


Childrens Rights Logo

Children’s Rights: Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit


Disability Rights Iowa Logo

Disability Rights IOWA is part of a nationwide network of protection and advocacy systems established in the 1970s by the U.S. Congress to respond to abuse and neglect of Iowans with disabilities and/or mental illness. DRI has the authority under federal law to investigate abuse and neglect and pursue legal, administrative and other appropriate remedies to ensure the protection of Iowans with disabilities and/or mental illness.  DRI is an independent, non-profit, 501 (c)(3) corporation funded through contributions, and grants from the Federal Government. Disability Rights IOWA advocates for the rights of Iowans with disabilities wherever they may live. For more information, please visit



Iowa DHS Again fails to protect Iowa’s Youth

August 7, 2017 -Disability Rights Iowa released a report today regarding the failure of the Iowa Department of Human Services to provide appropriate mental health treatment to the youth at the Boys State Training School in Eldora, Iowa.

Disability Rights Iowa (DRI) is a non-profit law center, which has been authorized by Congress to protect and advocate for the rights of Iowans with disabilities and mental illness. Over the past year, DRI has intensively investigated the adequacy of mental health services for youth placed at the Boys State Training School (BSTS), which is a secure juvenile justice facility located in Eldora, Iowa.  BSTS is operated by the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS).  Approximately 120 youth live there. About two-thirds of them have been diagnosed as having a serious mental illness and are on psychotropic medications.

DRI’s key findings of DRI’s report – entitled “Unlicensed and Unlawful: The Failure to Ensure Safe and Evidence-Based Treatment at the Boys State Training School” are as follows:

  • The BSTS is not providing evidence-based mental health services to residents besides medication management. This is a violation of the statutory mission of the BSTS and a violation of the constitutional rights of the residents at BSTS.
  • There is an overreliance on the use of restraint and seclusion, which disproportionately affects African American youth and youth with disabilities.
  • There are no regulations that govern the use of restraint and seclusion and provisions of mental health care and education at the BSTS. This is an anomaly in the juvenile justice system in Iowa.
  • There is no independent State licensure and oversight of the BSTS. This is an anomaly in the juvenile justice system in Iowa.

DRI recommends several forms of relief for the residents at the BSTS, which include but are not limited to, the following:

  • Transfer of all youth with mental illness to appropriate placements where appropriate mental health services can be provided, including adding to Iowa’s continuum of care if there are no services that can currently be provided for the youth who are transferred.
  • Implement all recommendations found in the mental health services audit at the BSTS.
  • Provide additional training to staff in multiple areas of need identified in this report and implement data collecting and reporting procedures for the reduction of restraint and seclusion and the reduction of the disproportionate punishment of African American youth.
  • Eliminate the use of room confinement for minor rule violations and the use of the “wrap”.
  • Provide State regulations for the BSTS that adhere to Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) Juvenile Detention Standards.
  • Provide licensure and oversight by an independent State entity.

DRI is open and will to meet with state officials to discuss its findings and recommendations.  However, DRI will take all appropriate and necessary action, up to and including filing a lawsuit in federal court against the Governor, the DHS Director and other state officials, if they do not remedy the problems that DRI has identified in this report and taken appropriate corrective action.

The funding source for this report was the Federal Victims of Crime Assistance Act Funds.

Full Boys State Training School Public Report

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

Appendix E

Appendix F

Press Contact:  Nathan Kirstein, J.D.,



How to Be Your Own Best Advocate: Guide to Navigating Managed Care in Iowa.

The Managed Care Ombudsman Program has just released a new resource for Medicaid members and their support system. The How to be Your Own Best Advocate Guide is intended to assist members and their loved ones with navigating the managed care system. The link to the guide can be found below. This guide was developed in collaboration with Disability Rights Iowa and the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council.




Iowans Challenge State’s Termination of Critical Health Care Services

Six Iowans with significant disabilities filed a class action lawsuit in federal court to stop Governor Kim Reynolds and Department of Human Services Director Charles Palmer from arbitrarily terminating or reducing the Medicaid services they depend on to stay in their homes in the community.  If it were not for these services, the Plaintiffs and others like them would be confined in hospitals, nursing facilities or intermediate care facilities.

Find out everything you need to know about the class action lawsuit challenging the arbitrary termination of HCBS services here. Click the following link for the Press Release . You can also click the following link to see pleadings and related documents.



A special thank you to the Iowa State Fair

Iowa State Fair globe

In 2012, the Disability Rights Iowa team attended the Iowa State Fair to assess its accessibility. What they found was that one of Iowa’s biggest events was not as inclusive and accessible as they had hoped. Recommendations were made and the Iowa State Fair took their responsibility to the disabled community seriously.

Four years later, the progress they have made towards accessibility and inclusion has been no less than remarkable. Between facilities updates, sign language interpreters and accessible shuttles/parking, it is clear that the fair has taken valuable steps towards making the festivities accessible to all.

Three Disability Rights Iowa employees who have a disability had the opportunity to attend the fair this year. Tai Tomasi, who is blind, was very impressed with the shuttle system and the improvements they made to curb cuts inside the fair. Emmanuel Smith noted that he used to have to plan his day around accessible restrooms, but this year he found they were all around the fairgrounds. Zach Mecham was pleasantly surprised with wheelchair access on the grounds. He was able to navigate the fair independently this year with no issues.

The staff at Disability Rights Iowa know what a process it is to make a facility as old as the fair accessible. We recognize that there is more to do but commend the fair’s efforts to improve on accessibility. We just wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you and keep up the good work!

Hinterland music festival makes accessibility a priority

                                         ___Hinterland photo


Over the past several months, Disability Rights Iowa had had the good fortune to work with Sam Summers, organizer of the Hinterland Music Festival , to address issues of accessibility encountered during Hinterland’s first year. From our first conversation, it was apparent improved accessibility was a priority. While we realize making an event of Hinterlands size fully ADA compliant and accessible will be a multi-year effort, Sam repeatedly went above and beyond to ensure that Hinterland was as accessible as possible in the time frame allowed, even as the St. Charles site posed significant challenges. By providing accessible parking, accessible seating areas, accessible golf carts to assist attendees in enjoying the rolling hills of Madison County, a dedicated ADA check-in where individuals could get assistance, and accessible portable toilets, Hinterland to great efforts to make sure any issues of accessibility were considered and addressed.

DRI staff Tai Tomasii and Charlene Joens were able to attend this year’s event, and because of Sam’s commitment to accessibility, Tai’s visual disability posed no barrier to her enjoying the festival along with thousands of other Iowan’s. Her multiple discussions with attendee’s with disabilities revealed just how drastically Sam’s efforts improved the experience at Hinterland for people with disabilities, and we can’t thank him
enough for his work. It’s because of the efforts of Mr. Summers and many other dedicated business owners around the state that we are making huge strides towards ensuring that Iowa lives up to the promises of the American’s with Disabilities Act, and the spirit of inclusion it represents. Thank you Sam and all the staff at Hinterland!

Iowa State Fair takes strides in accessibility

The Iowa State Fair has taken positive steps towards accessibility in recent years. They have put together a transition plan and begun to carry it out in significant ways. Two of the facilities that have already been updated are the Cultural Center and the Youth Inn.

Other steps the Iowa State Fair has taken towards accessibility include ADA/accessible parking, assisted listening devices for select buildings and sign language interpreters for the Fun Forrest. Sign language interpreters are also available upon request for specific events. More information can be found on the Disability Assistance page. You can also download the Iowa State Fair accessibility-guide for details on accessibility.

Making Hard Time Harder: Report Outlines Need for Accommodations for Inmates with Disabilities


June 22, 2016

As many as 31 percent of U.S. inmates in state prisons report having at least one disability. Inmates with disabilities often spend more time in prison, under harsher conditions, than inmates without disabilities. Today, the Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities (AVID) Prison Project, a project of Disability Rights Washington, released the report Making Hard Time Harder: Programmatic Accommodations for Inmates with Disabilities Under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The report outlines lack of accommodations for inmates with disabilities.

“People are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment,” says Mark Stroh, Executive Director of Disability Rights Washington. “In drafting this report, we have found that inmates with disabilities are often neglected and excluded from programs, rehabilitation, and basic medical care, subjecting them to additional forms of punishment solely due to their disability.”

The report includes case examples submitted by protection and advocacy agencies (P&As) engaged in prison work in 21 states. Colorado, Washington, and South Carolina all reported cases in which essential mobility devices, such as wheelchairs and walkers, were taken from inmates. One case resulted in an inmate’s inability to access showers or outside yard for almost two years. Idaho and Illinois reported systemic litigation seeking the provision of video phone services for inmates who are deaf or hard of hearing. Alabama reported inmates with intellectual disabilities could not access medical care in a written request, and were therefore unable to receive needed medical attention, prompting federal litigation.

Disability Rights Iowa, the P&A for the state and a contributor to the report, tells the story of its advocacy on behalf of inmates with mobility disabilities in Iowa’s state prisons. After receiving complaints that the programs and services of a facility were inaccessible, the P&A conducted monitoring. The P&A found that that the chapel and auditorium were located at the top of very steep stairs and therefore inaccessible to many inmates with disabilities. Disability Rights Iowa advocated with the prison’s warden and inmates with mobility disabilities can now use an elevator to access the chapel and auditorium.

From individual assistance to large scale federal litigation, these case summaries demonstrate the breadth and depth of work by P&As in prisons, and demonstrate that despite the passage of the ADA over two decades ago, much state prison work remains to be done.

Report recommendations to address this crisis in our nation’s prisons include:

1. Creation of independent corrections ombuds offices at the state level in order to address inmate concerns before they rise to the level of litigation.
2. Systemic accessibility reviews by state departments of corrections to identify both physical and programmatic barriers for inmates with disabilities.
3. Increased federal funding to the protection and advocacy network for corrections based monitoring and advocacy.
4. Increased training for prison ADA coordinators and collaboration between these staff members and the local P&As to address inmate concerns.

The report is available at, where original interviews with inmates on disability issues in correctional settings can be accessed.

About the AVID Prison Project
AVID is a prison advocacy initiative that focuses on the needs of current and former prisoners with disabilities. The project was developed by Disability Rights Washington and is a collaboration between the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) and Protection and Advocacy agencies (P&As) in Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Carolina, and Washington, with communication assistance from the P&As in Louisiana and Texas.


Contact: Whitney Driscoll,

Disability Rights Iowa as an LGBTQ Safe Zone

Disability Rights Iowa is proud to announce that we have recently been certified through One Iowa as an official “Safe Space” for LGBTQ individuals. We here at DRI will continue to strive to provide a safe and welcoming space for all Iowan’s, holding always to the principles of inclusion and equality so central to our mission. Thanks to all at One Iowa for their incredible work.


Check Out Iowa WIPA’s New Blog!


The Iowa Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program is excited to introduce to new resource, The Iowa WIPA Blog !

The Iowa Work Incentives Planning and Assistance program or WIPA is a grant funded program sponsored by the Social Security Administration that provides work incentives planning and assistance services to Social Security beneficiaries who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), who want to pursue gainful employment/self employment.

Work Incentives promote employment/self employment and greater independence for people with disabilities who are initially entering, or re-entering, the workforce.

Click Here for more information about the Blog and the resources you can find there.


Disability Rights IOWA aims to defend and promote the human and legal rights of Iowans who have disabilities and mental illness. We promote safety, opportunity, access, and self-determination for all Iowans through a program of:

  • self-advocacy education, information, and referral;
  • non-legal advocacy;
  • and legal and systems advocacy.

Our legal and systems advocacy aims to resolve major issues called priorities. View our current Areas of Focus, or suggest Areas of Focus.

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