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.,



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