E.R. v. McDonnell was filed in December 1995, on behalf of two children confined in the Phillip B. Gilliam Youth Services Center against officials in the Colorado Department of Human Services, the Division of Youth Services, and the Denver Public School District. The complaint alleged unconstitutional overcrowding; problems with safety, health and sanitation; deficiencies in the educational services; the absence of a special education program; insufficient exercise and recreation; inadequate medical and mental health services; over-reliance on mechanical restraints and isolation; the absence of meaningful classification; and inadequate, insufficiently trained staff. The children were not allowed to have writing implements or games (other than books or cards) in the rooms, so most simply languished or slept for as long as 22 hours on thin mattresses on the floor. The week after the case was filed, there were 195 children held in the facility; the design capacity was 78.
This case settled on May 26, 1995, with the filing of the Settlement Agreement and Order. The Settlement Agreement remained in effect for three years, with monitoring by a juvenile institutional expert and an education expert to be jointly selected by the parties.