Since 2002, YLC staff has worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) on ACLU of New Mexico v. New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department to improve living conditions and rehabilitation services for young people in state juvenile justice facilities. YLC serves as co-counsel in litigation that resulted in settlement agreements in 2006 and 2009 in which the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) agreed to improve safety for youth in state juvenile facilities and increase the quality and quantity of mental health and rehabilitation services for youth in the facilities and in the community.
The 2009 agreement details improvements in accountability, quality assurance, safety and protection of youth, health services, and educational programming, including commitments by CYFD to:
- Invite nationally-recognized juvenile justice expert Paul DeMuro to take part in a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to advise and work with CYFD to implement the agreement;
- Re-focus CYFD’s Office of Quality Assurance on continuous quality improvement processes, including regular and detailed reviews of juvenile justice facilities;
- Implement an effective system for abuse investigation and filing of grievances, and ensure timely and appropriate corrective action is taken in response to substantiated grievances. This includes the creation of new grievance officer positions in YDDC, Camino Nuevo, and J. Paul Taylor Center.
- Reduce living units to twelve youths or less, providing safer places for youth to live;
- End abusive and coercive lockdown procedures and revise policies on physical restraints;
- Revise policies for managing older youth (more than 60% of youth in CYFD custody are older than eighteen);
- Implement the Missouri model of youth detention and rehabilitation; and
- Establish transition care for youth that will begin at the individual’s commitment and continue through his or her reintegration into society.
Throughout 2009 and 2010, YLC worked with ACLU-NM attorneys to monitor compliance with the agreement and participated in some of the TAC meetings. In late 2010, YLC and the ACLU-NM returned to court to obtain assistance in improving compliance with the agreement.
In November 2011, the court issued an order requiring CYFD to (1) allow ACLU attorneys who have passed the same background checks required of other visitors access to youth on their living units and (2) to respect fully, and refrain from intruding upon the attorney-client relationship between ACLU and the youth they represent or have been asked to represent.