The Honorable Mike Huckabee
Governor of Arkansas
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201
Re: CRIPA Investigation of
Alexander Youth Services Center
Dear Governor Huckabee:
We are writing to report the findings of our investigation
of the conditions at the Alexander Youth Services Center (herein
referred to as "Alexander" or "the facility"). On May 8, 2002,
we notified you of our intent to investigate Alexander pursuant
to the Civil Rights of Institutional Persons Act ("CRIPA"),
42 U.S.C. § 1997, and the pattern or practice provision of the
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C.
§ 14141 ("Section 14141").
On June 3-5 and 19-21 2002, we conducted on-site inspections
of the facility with expert consultants in juvenile justice
management, mental health care, fire safety, and education.
While at Alexander, we interviewed residents, and direct care,
program, and administrative staff. Before, during, and after our
visit, we reviewed documents including policies and procedures,
incident reports, investigations, and mental health, medical, and
We would like to thank the staff at Alexander and State
officials for the level of cooperation we received during our
investigation. We also appreciated the candor and openness of
the facility's staff and administration. Moreover, State and
facility staff and administration reacted positively and
constructively to the observations and recommendations for
improvement made by our consultants during the site visits.
Consistent with the statutory requirements of CRIPA, we
write to advise you of the results of the investigation. As
described more fully below, we conclude that certain conditions
at Alexander violate the constitutional and statutory rights of
residents at the facility. We find that children confined at
Alexander suffer harm or the risk of harm from deficiencies in
the facility's mental health care and fire safety protections.
In addition, the facility fails to provide required education
services. Finally, we find that Alexander violates the First
Amendment rights of its juvenile residents by forcing them to
engage in religious activities. While we have some
recommendations regarding the facility's overall juvenile justice
management, we found no constitutional or statutory violations in
A. FACILITY DESCRIPTION
Alexander is a 140-bed facility that serves as the central
intake center for the Arkansas juvenile justice system. It
houses only children who have been adjudicated as juvenile
offenders and committed to State custody. Youth housed at
Alexander range in age from 10 to 17. On September 1, 2001, a
private corporation, Cornell Companies, Inc. ("Cornell"), assumed
operation of Alexander. The State employees who had staffed the
facility prior to that date were required to reapply for
employment, and there has been considerable staff turnover since
Cornell assumed the management of the facility. While State
employees still provide some intake services at the facility, all
of the facility administration, counselors, security staff, and
direct care workers are now Cornell employees.
There is a boys' and a girls' intake unit at Alexander. (1)>
Alexander also houses the State's sex offender unit for juveniles
and a separate unit for children who have either committed the
most serious types of offenses or caused problems while housed in
another part of Alexander or elsewhere in the State system (this
unit is called the "JUMP" unit). There are two additional units
that house boys, one for 10-15 year-olds (called "MAC"), the
other for 16-17 year-olds (called "HOPE"). The children in these
two units are housed by age, rather than any other form of
classification, and are generally waiting for space to open up in
some other placement, whether it be the JUMP unit at Alexander or
another program within the State juvenile system. Alexander
cannot refuse to accept juveniles from other State facilities,
nor can it transfer juveniles to another State facility unless
that facility agrees to house them.
While most of the buildings on the campus are more than
twenty years old, two new buildings were built recently. The
first is an education building in which classes were already
taking place during our first visit to the facility. The second
is a dormitory housing unit that was not occupied as of the time
of our second visit to the facility, but that we understand is
now housing some residents.
Children in the JUMP unit go to school, eat, are given
medication, and receive recreation all within the JUMP unit
building and the attached outdoor recreation area. Thus, youth
in the JUMP unit can go long periods of time without ever leaving
the JUMP unit complex. Children in the other units attend school
in a separate school building, go to the cafeteria for lunch and
dinner, receive medicine at the infirmary, and have access to a
gymnasium and outside recreation fields.
B. LEGAL BACKGROUND
Both CRIPA and Section 14141 give the Department of Justice
the authority to seek a remedy for a pattern or practice of
conduct that violates the constitutional or federal statutory
rights of children in juvenile justice institutions. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997; 42 U.S.C. § 14141. As a general matter, the State must
provide confined adjudicated juveniles with reasonably safe
conditions of confinement. See Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307,
315-16, 24 (1982) (recognizing that a person with mental
retardation in state custody has substantive due process rights
under the Fourteenth Amendment); Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520,
535-36 & n.16 (1979) (applying the Fourteenth Amendment standard
to facility for adult pre-trial detainees); Gary H. v. Hegstrom,
831 F.2d 1430, 1432 (9th Cir. 1987) (applying Fourteenth
Amendment standard to facility for adjudicated juveniles).
Adjudicated juveniles have a right to adequate education
instruction. See Alexander S. v. Boyd, 876 F. Supp. 773, 798
(D.S.C. 1995). They also possess federal statutory rights to
education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400, et seq. Moreover, the Equal
Protection Clause can bar discrimination based on gender in the
provision of education services. See United States v. Virginia,
518 U.S. 515 (1996).
The First Amendment both prohibits states from coercing
individuals to support or participate in religion and guarantees
their right to exercise freely their religious beliefs. U.S.
Const. Amend. I ("Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
A. MENTAL HEALTH
The Constitution requires that confined juveniles receive
adequate medical treatment, including mental health treatment and
suicide prevention measures. Hott v. Hennepin County, 260 F.3d
901, 905 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Williams v. Kelso, 201 F.3d
1060, 1065 (8th Cir. 2000)); Young v. City of Augusta, 59 F.3d
1160, 1169 (11th Cir. 1995); Horn v. Madison County Fiscal Court,
22 F.3d 653, 660 (6th Cir. 1994); Bowring v. Godwin, 551 F.2d 44,
47 (4th Cir. 1977).
i. Suicide Prevention
Alexander fails to employ sufficient suicide prevention
measures. Two juveniles at Alexander have committed suicide by
hanging themselves since May 2001. Both cases illustrate
deficiencies in the suicide prevention measures utilized by
Alexander. Since those cases, the State has taken some measures
to attempt to address these deficiencies. However, there are
still unremedied deficiencies in the facility's suicide
On May 13, 2001, a juvenile who was housed in Alexander's
JUMP unit hanged himself. Although the juvenile had a long
history of self-harm and self-mutilation, and a member of the
treatment staff placed him on suicide watch on May 5, 2001, the
log book on the JUMP unit covering the period from May 1st until
the juvenile's death did not indicate that suicide watch
procedures were utilized. Thus, it was not communicated to
direct care staff that he was on suicide watch or that he should
be under constant observation. In addition, the juvenile was
given sheets for his bed, even after a May 5, 2001 search of his
room indicated that he had torn his sheet in strips and was
braiding the strips together to make a rope. The investigation
of the incident showed that direct care workers were sleeping on
the job, had failed to conduct required ten minute checks, and
may have falsified log book entries.
On September 16, 2001, another juvenile housed in
Alexander's JUMP unit hanged himself. After an August incident
in which this juvenile placed a sheet around his neck, he was put
on suicide precautions. Later, the facility psychiatrist
discontinued the suicide precautions, but ordered that the
juvenile be put on close observation. However, there was no
description of what close observation required in the suicide
prevention policy in effect at the facility at that time.
Moreover, once again there was no documentation of this order to
provide close observation provided to the staff on the JUMP unit.
As a result, only one check of the juvenile was made during a
three-hour period ending in the discovery of his body. During
the evening of his death, the juvenile repeatedly threatened to
kill himself, and covered the window to his room to prevent being
observed. Despite these threats, and his covering of his window,
the juvenile was not constantly observed and was allowed to
continue to have his sheets. The investigation of this incident
found that direct care staff had failed to conduct required
checks on the juvenile, had falsified records, and failed to
ensure his safety and security.
Since the first of these suicides, the State has adopted a
revised suicide policy and has taken disciplinary action against
several employees whose conduct during these incidents violated
facility policy. However, serious deficiencies in the facility's
suicide prevention measures remain. The facility continues to
lack an effective method of communicating vital information about
juveniles to direct care staff. Even though we were told that
the facility relies on the unit log books to provide direct care
staff with necessary information about the children under their
care, we reviewed numerous log books that failed to provide
sufficient information about the incidents that led youth to be
placed on suicide watch, close observation, or room restriction.
In other cases, log books failed to provide sufficient
information for staff to carry out properly orders for suicide
watch (i.e., what material children should be allowed in their
rooms while on watch).
For example, during our most recent visit to the facility,
we observed a juvenile in the JUMP unit who had threatened to
commit suicide by fashioning a noose from his sheets. Not only
was there no information available on the unit regarding what led
to the suicide precautions, but the juvenile was allowed to keep
his sheets. During our first visit to the facility, we met a
child who appeared very sullen and depressed. We later learned
that he had told officials at another facility that we would kill
himself if he were returned to Alexander. However, this
information had not been communicated to direct staff, and this
child was not placed on any kind of precautions until we
expressed our concerns to the facility staff about his condition.
While the State has adopted a revised suicide policy which
provides for strong suicide prevention measures, there was
considerable confusion among the staff we interviewed about the
particulars of the policy. Different staff members provided
different explanations of what level of scrutiny was required by
the various levels of observation (i.e., the differences between
"Close Supervision" and "Continuous Observation"). We also
received varying answers about what type of staff members could
place juveniles on suicide observation or remove them from such
designation. Finally, even though the policy states that
juveniles on suicide precautions should not have bed sheets and
regular blankets, as discussed above, we observed a juvenile who
was on suicide precautions for threatening to hang himself in
possession of bed sheets and a regular blanket. Thus, additional
training needs to be provided to employees about the suicide
prevention policy. Further, it is critical that the facility
develop quality assessment mechanisms to ensure that staff are
properly implementing these suicide prevention policies.
Moreover, the policy should be revised to provide clearer
guidance on who can put a juvenile on suicide precaution (the
policy provides that any staff member can refer a juvenile to the
treatment staff for evaluation, but does not specify who can
actually put the juvenile on suicide watch), and on whose
authority the juvenile can be removed from such precautions.
Alexander fails to provide the juveniles in its care with
sufficient individual mental health treatment and counseling --
particularly residents with serious mental illnesses. The
facility recently hired a qualified mental health professional, a
social worker, to serve as a counselor to children on the JUMP
unit. However, as described below, more qualified mental health
professionals, and additional remedial measures, are required to
provide adequate individual mental health treatment at the
Although the facility has a psychiatrist and a psychologist,
they respectively only prescribe medication and conduct intake
analysis. They do not provide any individual treatment to the
children. Alexander employs counselors to provide direct
services to its residents. However, these counselors are only
required to have a Bachelor's Degree and need not be qualified
mental health professionals. Moreover, many of the counselors we
interviewed during our visit stated that they did not believe
they had the knowledge or experience to provide individual mental
health treatment to residents. A substantively identical
individual mental health treatment program for incarcerated
juveniles was found constitutionally deficient in Nelson v.
Heyne, 491 F.2d 352 (7th Cir. 1974).
The counselors at Alexander also have many competing demands
on their time. They are primarily responsible for a number of
tasks that while important, take time away from their ability to
provide individual mental health treatment. For example, they
are charged with case management for the juveniles, which
requires interacting with other State and local agencies, keeping
the children and their families informed about their status, and
fulfilling a wide variety of record-keeping requirements. The
counselors also conduct group treatment classes that can have as
many as 20-30 children. Counselors also told us of being asked
to aid the direct care staff in basic custodial functions.
Because of these time pressures, most counselors told us they
were unable to meet with the juveniles for the amount of time
regularly scheduled for such sessions. Even the fact that a
child was under suicide watch did not ensure that they received
individual attention from a counselor.
The counselors' level of education and experience do not
allow for the provision of what could properly be characterized
as individualized mental health treatment. The need for such
treatment is especially pronounced at Alexander because the
facility manages children with serious mental illnesses, rather
than sending them to other facilities. During our visit we met
several children with serious mental illnesses, including
psychosis and bi-polar disorder, who were receiving medication,
but no other mental health services. These children with serious
mental illnesses require individual mental health treatment from
a qualified mental health professional. They would also greatly
benefit from smaller group therapy sessions conducted by such
professionals. These services are currently unavailable at
Alexander. (2) The hiring of additional qualified mental health
professionals would also allow the counselors to focus on their
case management responsibilities and spend more time interacting
with the children. This increased interaction will provide more
support for the children and reduce anxiety, which can help
reduce the need for more formal mental health treatment.
Alexander generally does a good job in conducting mental
health screenings and employs a highly qualified and experienced
psychiatrist to prescribe medication. Still, there are
deficiencies in these areas that contribute to the overall
deficiencies in mental health treatment. First, there is no
regular and institutional means of obtaining from outside sources
(i.e., mental health facilities, other detention centers, etc.)
medical and mental health records about children entering the
facility. We were told by facility staff that such records are
not obtained as a matter of course, but instead must be tracked
down by the nursing staff, the psychiatrist, or the psychologist.
Of the files of juvenile residents we reviewed, while some had
such outside medical and mental health records, others for whom
such records clearly existed did not. We understand that there
are even difficulties in getting medical and mental health
information that was generated during previous admissions of the
juvenile to Alexander. Such records are not centralized, but are
kept in multiple files throughout the facility, and in some cases
cannot be retrieved if they date to before Cornell assumed
operation of the facility only a year ago.
Second, there are problems in the development and
implementation of treatment plans -- problems that adversely
effect the overall treatment provided to juveniles at Alexander. (3)
First, the psychiatrist often does not document his diagnosis or
the basis for the diagnosis. This fails to meet the standard of
proper care. Second, the psychiatrist does not appear to have
access to information from direct care staff that may be
essential to him in prescribing appropriate medication - for
example, direct care staff who may be able to inform the
psychiatrist of a youth's reaction to medication or recent
changes in a youth's behavior. Finally, Alexander should develop
written protocols for reviewing the appropriateness of prescribed
medicine at required intervals and ensuring that all necessary
tests and screenings are conducted before and while children are
prescribed pyschotropic medication. Currently there are no such
B. FIRE SAFETY
Alexander violates the constitutional rights of its
residents by failing to provide adequate fire safety protection.
See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976). This failure
results from deficiencies in sprinkler coverage of the facility;
the absence of smoke detectors in dormitory rooms; inadequate
fire separation of cells and hallways (which allows the flow of
smoke and fire from one room or corridor into another); the lack
of proper ventilation in dormitory cells; and the facility's
failure to have remote unlocking devices to automatically release
juveniles from their cells in the event of an emergency. See
Cody v. Hillard, 599 F. Supp. 1025, 1025 (S.D.S.D. 1984) (in
determining whether the constitutional requirement of adequate
fire safety is met, courts look at the totality of the
circumstances, rather than measuring compliance simply by
checking the conditions against any one fire code or set of
national standards). These deficiencies exist in Alexander's
housing units and in other buildings in which residents spend
significant amounts of time.
i. Housing Units
The older housing units (which include the boys' and the
girls' intake, MAC, HOPE, JUMP, and the sex offender unit) are
inadequate to meet constitutional standards for fire safety.
None of these housing units have adequate safeguards to control
the spread of smoke, nor do they have sufficient smoke detection
equipment. There is no smoke management system to ventilate the
cells and hallways in the event of a fire emergency. See
Coniglio v. Thomas, 657 F. Supp. 409, 414 (S.D.N.Y. 1987)
(finding that the Due Process Clause requires facilities to
develop effective smoke management systems and smoke barriers).
There are no smoke detectors in any of the individual cells
in the housing units. There are also no smoke detectors in the
JUMP unit's classrooms. Such detectors are needed to provide
facility staff with sufficient warning that a fire has started to
facilitate the safe evacuation of residents. While there are
smoke detectors in the corridors of the JUMP unit, these
detectors are battery operated. Not only can such battery
operated detectors be compromised by the failure to replace the
batteries or to regularly check that they are still functioning,
but they create additional risk to the safety of both residents
and staff. Currently, if a battery operated detector is
activated, a staff member is required to go investigate where the
smoke or fire is coming from, and inform the appropriate fire
prevention officials. This system not only increases response
time, and therefore puts juveniles at greater risk, but by
requiring staff members to go towards the fire, it jeopardizes
staff safety as well. Alexander should replace its battery
operated smoke detectors with a "hard-wired" monitoring system
that would automatically trigger a fire alarm when smoke is
detected and would provide central monitoring of the entire
system to inform staff exactly where the fire is coming from
without human investigation.
There are additional deficiencies in the housing units that
contribute to the failure to provide constitutionally adequate
fire safety protection. In all of the dormitories except the
JUMP unit, there are currently no sprinklers. (4) Sprinkler systems
are critical to suppressing the spread of fire. Even in the JUMP
unit, only one of the three sections of the unit has sprinkler
heads. The sprinkler heads in that area, at the time of our
visit to the facility, had not been tested or inspected since
1994 and lacked sufficient water pressure for the sprinkler heads
to be effective when activated. The cabinets containing the fire
extinguishers on the unit are locked, adding to the failure to
provide adequate fire suppression.
Each of the housing units also has a gas furnace supported
by a plywood surface. This is a fire hazard that can not only
cause a fire to start, but can provide additional combustible
material to spread a fire. Also, the utility closets on the
housing units that contain the gas furnaces are not sufficiently
separated from the rest of the building to provide adequate
protection against a fire spreading to the rest of the building.
The JUMP unit also has an unused kitchen that has a live gas
line. This incendiary device poses unnecessary risk to the youth
living in the JUMP unit.
The locking system used for cells on the housing units also
poses a hazard in the event of a fire. There is no automatic
unlocking system for the cells; each cell must be unlocked
manually by a staff member. See Alexander S., 876 F. Supp. 773
(finding that the requirement to provide adequate fire safety is
violated by housing juveniles in cells that need to be unlocked
one by one with a key, rather than a remote unlocking device);
Coniglio, 657 F. Supp. 409 (noting the absence of remote
unlocking devices as one factor in finding inadequate fire safety
protections). (5) This is especially dangerous given the absence of
adequate fire suppression and smoke detection equipment described
Alexander's emergency generator system is insufficient to
provide power in the event of a fire. While some of the housing
units have emergency generators, none of them are automatic, but
instead require manual operation. Thus, for the emergency
generator to operate during a fire, a staff person who knows how
to run the generator must be able to reach the generator quickly.
This is an unreasonable safety risk. Generators that
automatically provide power in the event of a power failure
during a fire should be installed to service all of the housing
There are also deficiencies in Alexander's preparedness to
evacuate youth in the event of a fire emergency. We found that
several staff members in the housing units were unfamiliar with
the facility's fire safety procedures. The staff member we asked
to demonstrate the proper use of a fire extinguisher was unable
to do so. We also received conflicting reports from staff and
children regarding the frequency with which fire drills are
conducted. Moreover, the facility has no written training
materials for instructing staff in fire safety procedures.
Finally, there are currently no oxygen breathing apparatuses
in any of the dormitory units. Such equipment can be utilized by
staff members if they are required to go through a housing unit
to unlock the cells or go through the buildings to make sure all
of the children have been evacuated. This type of apparatus
should be available in each housing unit.
ii. New Dormitory
A new dormitory building was recently constructed on the
Alexander campus. While it was not being used when we toured the
facility, we understand that youth have recently been moved into
this new building. This building suffers from serious fire
deficiencies. Although the new dormitory building has an alarm
system, that system is not centrally monitored. Instead, the
fire alarm control panel, which has a light that indicates when
the alarm is not functioning, is in a closet adjacent to the
front entrance of the building. Thus, unless someone happens to
enter the closet, no one will know if the alarm is not
While the new dormitory does have a sprinkler system,
a check of the pressure on the sprinkler revealed that it was
very low. This low pressure renders the sprinkler system useless
in the event it is needed in a fire emergency. This deficiency
must be remedied.
The new dormitory has delayed locking devices and key locks
installed on the exterior doors. In the event of an emergency,
it is likely to take too long to locate a staff person to unlock
the exterior lock and engage the delayed locking device. (6) This
creates an unreasonable delay in the facility's ability to
The ceilings in the new dormitory are made of combustible
plywood. There is also a gas furnace located in a utility closet
resting on a combustible plywood platform. As stated above, the
combustible combination of gas and plywood creates a dangerous
iii. Administrative Buildings
a. Old Education Building
The older education building, which also houses some
administrative offices, poses the same type of fire safety
dangers to the juveniles who use this building as are found in
the housing units. It does not have a sprinkler system or a
hard-wired smoke detection system that is integrated into the
fire alarm system. While Alexander has placed smoke detectors in
corridors and classrooms, there are no smoke detection devices in
any of the administrative offices or in the utility room that
houses the gas furnace for the building. Like the housing units,
the gas furnace for this building sits on top of a plywood
surface. There is also not adequate compartmentalization of the
utility room to prevent fire and smoke from spreading to the rest
of the building. Moreover, there is no ventilation system in the
building. Finally, the building has no automatic back-up
generator in the event of a power failure during a fire
b. New Education Building
Like the new dormitory building, the fire alarm control
panel in this building was placed in a closet. The building does
not have sprinklers. Also, like the new dormitory, the ceilings
are made of combustible plywood, and there is a gas furnace
located in a utility closet that sits atop a plywood platform.
The cumulative effect of these conditions unreasonably places
juveniles at risk of harm.
c. Chapel, Kitchen, Dining Hall, and Storage
The chapel, kitchen, dining hall, and storage facilities
have adequate fire safety protections. We did notice, however,
cigarette butts on the floor in the storage area indicating that
some smoking may be occurring. This is a situation that should
be monitored closely by Alexander staff.
Alexander violates the constitutional and statutory rights
of its residents by failing to provide adequate education
services. These education deficiencies include the failure to
provide education services within a reasonable amount of time
upon a resident's entering the facility and the lack of adequate
overall education and special education instruction and
i. Delay in Providing Education Services
Children at Alexander routinely remain in the intake units
without attending school for weeks. This leads to unreasonably
long delays in providing education service. For example, we
reviewed the records of a special education student who arrived
at the school on March 21, 2002. This student waited in the
intake unit for a month before being placed in school. During
one of our visits to the facility, we met two boys who were in
the intake unit waiting to be placed in school. One had been in
facility for a month and the other for more than two weeks
without being enrolled in school.
Alexander's current practice of having children remain in
intake units without attending school for weeks at a time has
serious negative consequences not only for the educational
progress of the children, but for their overall rehabilitation.
Moreover, the long delay in providing education services is
unreasonable and unnecessary. Alexander can, without much
hardship or disruption to its education program, provide
education services much sooner than is its current practice. (7)
The failure of Alexander to take reasonable steps that would
prevent harmful delays in its provision of education services
deprives children of their constitutional right to adequate
ii. General Education Services
The general education program at Alexander is inadequate.
This deficiency is caused by the failure to provide all students
with adequate instruction; the absence of vocational training;
the failure to employ a school counselor; inadequate access to
reading materials; and the failure to assign homework. The
failure to provide some of these education services not only
contributes to Alexander's overall violation of its residents'
Due Process Clause right to adequate education, but also violates
the rights of the children under the Equal Protection Clause.
The Arkansas State Standards for Accreditation of Arkansas Public
Schools (SAAPS) require schools to provide guidance counseling,
adequate vocational education, homework, and the opportunity to
obtain a diploma. The failure to provide these services to
students at Alexander is not justified by legitimate correctional
concerns and therefore violates the Equal Protection Clause.
There is a wide range of competency and effectiveness among
the teachers at Alexander. With respect to the students of those
teachers that are not competent or effective, Alexander fails to
provide adequate instruction, because it lacks sufficient
mechanisms to monitor the quality of teaching and to provide
effective staff development and mentoring to those teachers who
need it. This requires instruction and correction directed at
the particular weaknesses of individual teachers.
There is also a critical shortage of resources available to
both teachers and students at Alexander. A February 2002 State
education report found a shortage of textbooks and other
education materials at the facility. During our visit to the
facility, the library in the JUMP unit was in disarray and had
few reading materials. Although the library serving the general
population appears to have a sufficient number of books, many of
the books we examined had never been checked out, suggesting that
the library is not regularly used by students. There is also a
critical shortage of reading materials available in living areas.
The education program at Alexander also suffers from the
failure of students to be given homework on a regular basis.
Despite there being "quiet time" periods on housing units'
schedules, students report being given little or no homework.
Homework materials would also supplement the meager reading
materials available in the housing units. SAAPS requires each
Arkansas school district to adopt a policy for appropriate and
meaningful homework to "promote the development of students'
independent study skills . . . [to] reinforce and strengthen
academic skills, broaden the education experiences of the
students, and relate those experiences to the real life of the
community." (8) The failure to provide children at Alexander with
homework not only interferes with their overall education, but it
deprives them of the resources that are available to children in
Arkansas public schools.
SAAPS requires schools to provide a developmentally
appropriate guidance program to aid students in education,
personal, social, and career development. (9) As stated above,
Alexander does not even have a guidance counselor. Thus, the
facility fails, without any justification, to provide equivalent
education counseling services to those enjoyed by public school
students. The failure of the facility to have a guidance
counselor also contributes to overall education deficiencies at
the facility. As discussed below, it also contributes to
shortcomings in the special education evaluation process. In
addition, a guidance counselor would aid the facility in ensuring
that the instruction that students receive at Alexander is
compatible with the program of study at the public school from
which they came and to which they will return. Such a counselor
could also improve documentation regarding the education students
receive, thereby helping to ensure that other schools accept
credits from Alexander.
Part of the reason Alexander has such an urgent need to
employ a guidance counselor is that it is unaccredited by the
State. For this reason, other public schools may not be
required to accept the credits students earn at Alexander. This
lack of accreditation has additional negative consequences for
students at Alexander. Because it is unaccredited, Alexander is
unable to confer high school diplomas based on the completion of
course work. (10)
Given the population at Alexander, and the tendency for
children to fall behind educationally while in a juvenile justice
system, vocational training is an essential part of an adequate
education system. Moreover, SAAPS requires that Arkansas high
schools provide career and technical education to students for
whom such instruction is appropriate. (11) Alexander fails to have
an adequate vocational program. Instead, it has only one teacher
who gives one class on career experience. The facility also
provides a very limited number of students the opportunity to
assist the maintenance staff. This "work-detail" largely
consists of observing staff doing their jobs and does not include
instruction in specific vocational skills or other career skills.
iii. Special Education
The IDEA requires Alexander to evaluate children to
determine whether they require special education services.
Alexander lacks a systematic process for conducting this
evaluation effectively. Generally, juvenile justice facilities
evaluate children for special education needs by both conducting
in-depth screening upon admission and by acquiring records from
schools they previously attended. While Alexander does have an
intake process, and requests education records, there are
deficiencies in both processes that render its education
evaluation system inadequate.
The intake interview at a facility like Alexander should
include questions that test the student's substantive knowledge
to determine whether the child needs special services. Instead
of performing an in-depth intake interview, Alexander simply has
children, as part of its general intake process, self-report
where they last attended school and provide other administrative
information. No in-depth intake evaluation is performed to
determine the level of a child's substantive academic knowledge.
Because of the insufficiency of its intake interview
process, Alexander uses a student's prior education records as
its primary screening tool to determine eligibility for special
education services. Staff informed us, however, that they were
frequently unsuccessful in obtaining education records promptly
from the school district where the youth previously attended
school. One facility administrator reported that Alexander
receives relevant education records for only half of its students
during their time in intake. This difficulty in obtaining
records may be caused, at least in part, by the request form used
at the facility. Not only has this form been duplicated so many
times that it is hard to read, but it bears the signature of
someone who no longer works at the facility. This failure to
obtain records contributes to the overall failure to conduct
adequate special education evaluations.
Alexander provides inadequate special education services to
children housed at the facility who qualify for such services.
The February 2002 State education report, cited above, notes that
a girl who was entitled to receive special education services
failed to receive them despite being at the facility for eight
months. Staff reported that none of the girls at Alexander who
are eligible for special education regularly receive such
instruction. This failure to provide special education services
to eligible girls apparently results from a shortage of special
education teachers and the decision to utilize the available
teachers only for special education classes taken by boys. This
failure violates both the IDEA and the Fourteenth Amendment.
The special education program for boys is also inadequate.
Most boys requiring special education instruction only spend a
small portion of their school day receiving such instruction.
The rest of the day they are in regular education classes that do
not meet their special needs. Some boys in the JUMP unit receive
special education instruction all day, but the instruction
provided does not meet the intensive special education needs of
this population. Moreover, there is insufficient special
education staff to work with children who can appropriately be
placed in general education classes (and have been placed by
Alexander in such classes) but have some needs that require
special education instruction.
D. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
There is no question that religious activities can further a
juvenile facility's rehabilitative mission. Moreover, Alexander
must allow youth to engage in voluntary religious activities when
such activities do not interfere with the operations of the
facility. See Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons
Act of 2000,42 U.S.C. § 2000cc. Alexander's interest in
affording juveniles with the benefits of religious activities has
led, however, Alexander to "establish" religion in violation of
the First Amendment by coercing youth to engage in specific
During our second visit to the facility, we witnessed a
juvenile being asked to lead an entire unit in prayer during a
mandatory unit activity. Staff we interviewed stated that this
was a common occurrence and told us that all children were
required to stand during the group prayer. Moreover, in many
units staff had posted religious prayers such as the "Lord's
Prayer," the "Serenity Prayer," and "St. Francis' Prayer" on the
walls for the children to read. Mandatory prayer and the posting
of religious literature in the common areas of state facilities
for children violates the Establishment Clause. See Engel v.
Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) (classroom prayer at beginning of
each school day violates Establishment Clause); Stone v. Graham,
449 U.S. 39, 39 (1981) (finding that posting the Ten Commandments
on the walls of classrooms violates the Establishment Clause).
We also witnessed a mandatory group therapy class in which
children were required to read and discuss biblical quotations
that were not presented as part of a secular education program.
Instead, the quotations were utilized to foster the "lesson" that
participant's confinement was "God's will" and therefore out of
their control. (12)
Alexander staff informed us that the children on one unit
were required to attend a religious revival during the weekend of
June 16, 2002. Religious figures, such as pastors, were brought
to the facility specifically to lead this event. Due to lack of
staff, all children were required to attend for safety reasons.
The revival lasted throughout the weekend.
In each of these cases, children were required to engage in
specific religious activities and were subject to disciplinary
action if they did not participate. As discussed above, these
are the same types of activities (required prayers, displaying of
religious material, etc.) that the Supreme Court has found to
amount to State sponsorship of particular religious beliefs.
Moreover, none of these activities are required to maintain
facility security or for any other operational purpose. Thus,
these activities violate the Establishment Clause.
We stress that we are not suggesting that all religious
practices at Alexander must stop. In fact, the Free Exercise
Clause of the First Amendment protects the juveniles' rights to
engage in voluntary religious activity. Moreover, because of the
unique nature of the correctional setting, we recognize that
facilitating the juveniles' religious exercise may require a
degree of State involvement in religious activities that would
not be appropriate in other settings. For example, courts have
held that it is permissible for the State to pay for chaplains in
order to accommodate the religious exercise of those under State
custody or control. See Katcoff v. Marsh, 755 F.2d 223 (2d Cir.
1985) (upholding military chaplaincy program); Carter v.
Broadlawns Medical Center, 857 F.2d 448 (8th Cir. 1988), cert.
denied, 489 U.S. 1096 (1989) (county hospital's hiring of
chaplain did not violate the Establishment Clause). Likewise,
while having a chapel in a public school would clearly violate
the Constitution, chapels are present in most large correctional
facilities. Similarly, substance abuse programs that incorporate
faith, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are used by correctional
facilities and probation departments throughout the country.
Such programs are permissible under the Establishment Clause,
though those objecting to the religious elements must be given a
secular alternative if participation is mandatory. See Warner v.
Orange County Dep't of Probation, 115 F.3d 1068 (2d Cir. 1997).
To comply with the Constitution, in sum, Alexander need not
excise religion from the facility and its programs. However, it
must ensure that it does not coerce the youth to engage in
religious activities by making all such activities voluntary.
Also, the exhibition of religious posters in common areas should
be limited to areas where the juveniles are present voluntarily,
such as a room where a religious service or religious instruction
is being held.
E. JUVENILE JUSTICE MANAGEMENT
As part of our investigation, we reviewed the overall
management of the facility. Our review revealed some concerns
regarding the classification of juveniles (specifically that
juveniles who are housed at the facility for more than just
intake, with the exception of the sex offenders and the most
serious offenders, are grouped solely by age rather than any
other basis). In addition, some staff and juveniles provided
anecdotal evidence suggesting a concern regarding the level of
juvenile-on-juvenile violence in these unclassified units.
However, we found, based on our tour of the facility and our
review of relevant records, no evidence of a pattern or practice
of harm resulting from this classification system. Nor do we
believe this classification system is so flawed that it subjects
juveniles to an unconstitutional level of risk of harm. Still,
we recommend expanding the facility's classification system in
order to ensure that any potential for juvenile-on-juvenile
violence is minimized.
III. REMEDIAL MEASURES
In order to rectify the identified deficiencies and protect
the constitutional and statutory rights of the youth confined at
Alexander, the facility should implement, at a minimum, the
A. MENTAL HEALTH CARE
1. Develop an effective method of ensuring that direct care
staff have all mental health information about the children
on their unit the staff needs to ensure the children's
health and safety, including instructions regarding any
required suicide precautions and information about critical
incidents in which the children were involved.
2. Provide staff with additional training on the facility's
suicide prevention policy, including the different levels of
observation and the types of precautions that should be
taken. Develop a quality assurance system regarding the
facility's suicide prevention policy.
3. Revise the suicide prevention policy to clarify what type of
staff can place juveniles on suicide precautions and what
type of staff can remove a juvenile from such precautions.
4. Ensure that a qualified mental health professional has
sufficient daily interaction with children on suicide
precautions and sufficient weekly interaction with any child
who needs such treatment. (13)
5. Develop and implement a procedure to obtain mental health
and medical information on a routine and systemic basis from
outside sources and keep all such information in one
centralized location available to all appropriate facility
6. Develop and implement a procedure to ensure that the
facility psychiatrist documents the diagnosis and the basis
for that diagnosis for each juvenile patient.
7. Develop and implement a protocol for reviewing, at required
intervals, the appropriateness of prescribed medication.
8. Develop and implement a protocol for ensuring that all
children receive any necessary medical screening or tests
before and during prescription of medication.
9. Ensure that when the facility psychiatrist meets with a
child, he has appropriate access to relevant information
from the direct care staff regarding the juvenile.
B. FIRE SAFETY
1. Provide adequate smoke detection and fire alarm systems in
all housing and education buildings. (14)
2. Provide adequate sprinkler coverage in all housing and
education buildings. (15)
3. Provide adequate automatic ventilation or smoke management
systems in all housing and education buildings.
4. Ensure that staff can release juveniles from their rooms
without having to approach each room and use a key on each
5. Remedy the danger posed by the unused gas line in the
kitchen of the JUMP unit.
6. Remedy the danger posed by gas generators atop combustible
materials such as plywood platforms.
7. Remedy the danger posed by the plywood ceilings in the new
dormitory and education buildings.
8. Ensure sufficient separation between rooms in all housing
and education buildings to adequately limit the spread of
fire and smoke.
9. Provide adequate back-up power generation for all housing
and education buildings.
10. Formalize fire safety and emergency procedures and provide
staff with adequate training on these procedures.
11. Provide staff with breathing equipment to allow them to
assist juveniles in the case of a fire, and train them in
1. Ensure that all students receive appropriate education
instruction within a few school days of their arrival at the
2. Provide all teachers who need such services with effective
monitoring, professional development, and mentoring.
3. Ensure that students have access to adequate education
materials, including books and other reading materials, and
develop a policy to provide students with appropriate
4. Hire a school counselor.
5. Gain appropriate State accreditation of the education
program and obtain the ability to issue high school
6. Provide an adequate and appropriate vocational program.
7. Provide adequate screening of children for special education
needs, including obtaining prior education records from
school systems in a timely fashion.
8. Hire sufficient additional special education instructors to
enable the facility to provide adequate special education
services to both boys and girls.
D. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
1. Develop and implement a policy and protocol that clarifies
the proper role that religious activities can play at the
2. Provide adequate training to all staff on the policy and
protocol described above.
3. Monitor facility programs and the decorations on units to
ensure that the policy and protocol described above is being
# # #
In making the foregoing findings, and identifying
appropriate remedies, we recognize that the facility has made
progress over the last year in remedying some of its long-standing deficiencies. This progress can be attributed to the
efforts of State and facility officials to address proactively
problems they identified. These efforts evidence a commitment to
improving the facility.
In light of the State's cooperation in this matter, we will
be sending our consultants' evaluations of the facility under
separate cover. Although the experts' evaluations and work do
not necessarily reflect the official conclusions of the
Department of Justice, their observations, analysis, and
recommendations provide further elaboration of the issues
discussed in this letter and offer practical assistance in
Pursuant to CRIPA, the Attorney General may institute a
lawsuit to correct deficiencies of the kind identified in this
letter forty-nine days after appropriate officials have been
notified of them. 42 U.S.C. Section 1997b(a)(1). We would
prefer, however, to resolve this matter by working cooperatively
with you. We have every confidence that we will be able to do so
in this case. Civil Rights Division lawyers will be contacting
your attorney to discuss these remedial measures.
/s/ Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General
cc: Mark Lunsford Pryor, Esq.
State of Arkansas
Kurt Knickrehm, Director
Arkansas Department of Human Services
Doyle Herndon, Director
Division of Youth Services
Arkansas Department of Human Services
Bob McCracken, Director
Alexander Youth Services Center
1. The girls' "intake" unit houses all girls at the
facility, not just new arrivals.
2. As of our last visit to the facility, Alexander was
preparing to hire an additional psychologist. While filling this
position is important to the overall quality of the mental health
services being provided at the facility, we were told that this
psychologist would not be providing any direct treatment to
children, but would instead provide much needed supervision for
treatment staff. Thus, this new hire will not address the
treatment deficiencies discussed above. Moreover, according to
newspaper reports published since our tours of Alexander, the
applicant hired by the facility for this position was terminated.
3. We understand the facility is currently revising its
treatment plan development process to provide for more inter-disciplinary input.
4. We have been informed by the State that it is planning
to install sprinkler systems in each of the housing units, but
this has not yet been done.
5. Alexander has recognized the need for improving the
evacuation of children by recently implementing an unlocking
system that enables staff to readily identify keys even without
any light. This aids in opening the exit doors of the housing
units and the doors to individual cells. This was a significant
step in improving the procedures for emergency evacuation.
However, given the other fire safety deficiencies in the
facility, remote unlocking is still required to assure adequate
6. To the extent that the new dormitory was designed to
meet the specifications of the Arkansas Fire Prevention Code
("AFPC"), it does not. The AFPC only allows the use of a delayed
locking system where a building has a complete and automatic
smoke detection system or a complete and automatic sprinkler
system that is adequately monitored. As previously mentioned,
the new dormitory's fire alarm system is not effectively
monitored because the fire alarm control panel is in a closet,
and the sprinkler system is undermined by low water pressure.
7. One way for Alexander to provide these services without
unreasonable delay is to set up an "intake" education class.
This proposal is explained in more detail in the remedial
measures section of this letter.
8. SAAPS at 7.
9. Id. at 12.
10. SAAPS requires that students complete 21 credits from
an accredited school to receive a high school diploma. Id. at 9.
11. SAAPS at 5-6. SAAPS also requires Arkansas schools to
provide arts instruction. Id. at 5. Alexander should consider
art instruction as part of its vocational training and general
12. We were told that this document was not officially
sanctioned by the State. However, it is the responsibility of
the State to ensure that its employees and agents do not violate
the First Amendment rights of the residents.
13. In addition, to improve the overall operations and
mental health and education services provided at the facility, we
recommend that the facility institute a case management system
that ensures that an Alexander staff person would provide
information to the juvenile about his/her status, facilitate the
juvenile's entry into specialized treatment programs, and ensure
that juveniles generally are not "lost" in the system.
14. Although not constitutionally required, the safety of
children at Alexander would be enhanced by the installation of a
hard-wired smoke detector system in the chapel and in the
15. Although not constitutionally required, the safety of
children at Alexander would be enhanced by the installation of a
sprinkler system in the kitchen.
16. One way Alexander could provide this remedy would be to
set up a special "intake" education class. This classroom could
focus on basic education skills like literacy, current events,
and math skills. This curriculum would be applicable to children
with a broad range of education backgrounds. It would also
provide the facility with an opportunity to evaluate the
children's education abilities even before all relevant education
records had been obtained. After an appropriate period of time
in this intake classroom, children would be integrated into the
general school population.