Christina A. v. Bloomberg

Christina A. v. Bloomberg challenged the conditions of confinement at the South Dakota State Training School in Plankinton. The Youth Law Center filed this civil rights class action lawsuit in February 2000, to challenge staff placing youth, including girls stripped to their underwear or completely naked, in four-point restraints spread eagled on cement slabs; locking boys and girls in isolation cells for as many as 23 hours a day, for weeks and sometimes months at a time; and reading and censoring all mail that children send to their families for ‘negative comments.’ Many of the children incarcerated at Plankinton had not committed crimes, but were there for ‘status’ offenses such as truancy, curfew violation, and running away from home. These children are designated as CHINS (Children in Need of Supervision).

 

The lawsuit sought a court-ordered injunction prohibiting the abusive practices and requiring state officials to provide children incarcerated at the facility with adequate medical and mental health care, and special education for disabled children.

 

A federal court judge approved the settlement agreement in Christina A. v. Bloomberg on December 13, 2000. The settlement abolished the practice of using four-point restraints as punishment, limited the placement of youth in isolation cells and restricted the use of handcuffs to be used only when youth were being transported. The settlement also addressed the deficiencies in mental health, education, and staff training. The state had one year to implement the agreement.

 

The Youth Law Center monitored compliance with the settlement agreement from December 2000 through December 2001, during which time the state was in substantial compliance with the court’s order. Further, during the litigation and particularly during the period of compliance, the population dropped substantially, to the point where there were as few as four to five boys being held in the secure unit and all the girls had been transferred to other placements or sent home. In November 2001, citing budgetary considerations and determining that it was no longer cost effective to run the facility, the state of South Dakota decided to close the state training school. On December 31, 2001, after having been open for more than 100 years, the state training school at Plankinton was closed.