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.