In May 1977, male juvenile students in a Montana correctional institution filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Pine Hills School ("PHS") correctional institution. ...
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In May 1977, male juvenile students in a Montana correctional institution filed a class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Pine Hills School ("PHS") correctional institution. Plaintiffs, represented by Montana Legal Services Association and the National Juvenile Law Center of St. Louis University, complained primarily of the policies directed toward the maximum-security unit at PHS. Specifically they alleged overly harsh penalties such as macing, stripping, and forced injection of psychotropic drugs for violations of unwritten institutional rules such as noise making; extended isolation for up to 23 hours a day for several weeks; failure to provide adequate mental health care to students; failure to establish a meaningful rehabilitation program at PHS, including not permitting students in the maximum-security unit to attend school; and practices of reading and censoring mail and limited correspondence in general.
Over the next few years, several changes took place. In February 1978, shortly after the lodge housing the maximum-security unit was closed, and just before the Superintendent of PHS was replaced, both parties to the lawsuit agreed to a comprehensive evaluation of PHS by independent experts in the administration of juvenile institutions. The evaluation involved cooperative efforts by both parties, and both dove-tailed with the changes then taking place, and went progressively beyond the issues raised in the complaint initially.
On April 1, 1982, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana (Judge James Franklin Battin) approved a Consent Decree, which authorized many of the existing changes and provided for further changes in current protocol. Included were provisions for: increased social interaction between all detainees; freedom to practice religious beliefs; adequate dental, medical, and psychological care, including the hiring of a psychiatrist, or Ph.D. level psychologist; freedom of association and expression, specifically dress and hair length; liberal visitation policy, and increased ability to communicate with community members; the right to legally challenge confinement or placement decisions made by officers at PHS; discipline that is cautiously proportional to the violation committed, and written down and communicated to the student prior to the violation; unrestricted access to incoming and outgoing mail if privileged (attorneys, state officials, clergy) and unrestricted access to outgoing non-privileged mail as well as incoming mail unless there is credible evidence that it contains plans for criminal activity, escape, or access to contraband; restraint never to be used as discipline or treatment, but only when the student presents a danger to themselves or others; access to adequate and fresh hygiene products; and a logging of any deviation from or deprival of the rights and regulations outlined. The Consent Decree also required in-service training for all PHS employees, and provided that Attorneys for Plaintiffs have access to all records and reports until March 1985 and that the Director of Department of Institutions would visit PHS twice annually for at least the three years after the Consent Decree went into effect. The Court retained Jurisdiction indefinitely and changes to the Consent Decree require Court approval.Greg Venker - 05/18/2006