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SF Judge acts on juvenile hall conditions

•  Political and Legal     updated  2008/03/12 20:56

A San Francisco judge on Wednesday ordered the state to adhere to strict standards in monitoringcounty juvenile halls across California, ending a lawsuit over what lawyers said were deplorable conditions in some institutions.

The order by Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Mahoney effectively requires the Corrections Standards Authority -- the agency responsible for monitoring juvenile halls -- to comply with existing law that advocates for juvenile offenders said had not been enforced.

"They were not enforcing the law the way they were supposed to," said Richard Ulmer, an attorney with the firm of Latham & Watkins in Menlo Park. "The conditions just kept on the way they were."

Lawyers said that some of the conditions left uncorrected included teenagers held in isolation 23 hours a day for months on end, beatings and excessive use of pepper spray, overcrowding and inadequate education.

The lawsuit, launched in 2006, said the corrections authority had not required the juvenile halls to meet legally prescribed deadlines for correcting problems.

According to the suit, the state agency found only minor problems at three Los Angeles halls in late 2001, despite findings by federal investigators and a local judge of serious deficiencies in medical and mental health care, sanitation, use of force and other areas.

"It was cruel and unusual punishment, and the CSA gave them a pass," said Donald Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit legal group in San Rafael.

Although the order issued Wednesday simply mirrors current law, it will make it easier for advocates to go back to a court and request action from a judge if the state still doesn't obey, Specter said.

In a separate case relating to state-run youth prisons, lawyers have asked for a judge to appoint a receiver because they say the state hasn't lived up to a 2005 agreement in which it promised to correct many similar problems.

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