James v. Patton

James v. Patton was a companion lawsuit to Doe v. Younger, which the Youth Law Center joined in 1993 as part of an overall strategy to improve the juvenile justice system in Kentucky. The lawsuit involved two separate facilities in Kentucky, one stand-alone juvenile facility, and one facility that held both juveniles and adults. When the suit was filed, approximately sixty children were being held in the first facility, an adult jail.

During the course of the case, the county constructed a juvenile facility to house these detainees. While the physical facility was improved, personnel continued to operate under unconstitutional policies and procedures that included only two staff to manage the facility at any one time (resulting in abusive practices such as the excessive use of pepper spray for routine behavior problems) lack of adequate medical and psychological care, insufficient living space to provide for proper classification among juveniles, no recreational or rehabilitative programming for girls and insufficient educational programming for all the juveniles. The second, smaller facility, held twelve children who were co-located with adult inmates. The facility had no classroom, had no outdoor recreation, provided no education, and had only two staff members to cover a twenty-four hour shift. Again, because of inadequate staff, the use of stun guns and restraint chairs was common and decisions to use these methods were made by staff untrained in handling and controlling juveniles. Perhaps most disturbing was the fact that when a juvenile was restrained, a nurse injected the juvenile with sedatives without consultation with qualified medical personnel.

After extensive negotiations, plaintiffs significantly reduced the use of the restraint chair, increased educational possibilities and supported the institution of a behavior modification system which allows for increased visitation and privileges. As a result of this litigation, Kentucky has build youth-only facilities that hold fewer youth and provide better services. The state now operates juvenile facilities rather than local county officials.