Lawsuit: Iowa school for juvenile offenders misusing drugs

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Officials at an Iowa school for juvenile offenders are failing to provide adequate mental health care to youth and are instead administering powerful drugs without proper oversight or consent, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by two advocacy groups.

Disability Rights Iowa and Children’s Rights, a national watchdog group, accuse administrators at the state-run Boys State Training School of giving juveniles “dangerous” psychotropic medications. The groups allege the drugs are used “as a behavioral management tool” they likened to a chemical straitjacket.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status but highlights three teenagers with mental health needs who lived at the school in recent years, alleging their treatments — including solitary confinement and restraints — violate the American with Disabilities Act. It alleges medications also were administered to them without comprehensive treatment plans or proper notification parents or next of kin, and boys signed consent forms that didn’t detail the drugs’ risks.

Disability Rights Iowa said its investigation included repeatedly visiting the school, interviewing housed youth and reviewing health files not available to the general public. The organization is part of a nationwide network of groups with congressional support that help ensure states don’t violate the constitutional rights of disabled residents.

The Iowa Department of Human Services oversees the school in Eldora, about 60 miles north of Des Moines. The agency said Monday it doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but officials defended the school when Disability Rights Iowa released a report in August outlining similar allegations.

Youth ranging in age from 12 to late teens are held under court order at the facility. The school has 130 beds and currently houses between 110 and 120 juveniles. Most of the boys suffer from mental illness and more than 60 percent have been on psychotropic drugs, yet the school has only one full-time unlicensed school psychologist and one part-time psychiatrist, according to Disability Rights Iowa.

The lawsuit said the school’s plan to replace the psychiatrist with two other part-time staffers — a psychiatric nurse and a licensed therapist — isn’t enough.

One of the three health department officials named in the lawsuit is the school’s superintendent, Mark Day.