Politicians met Wednesday to discuss the ACLU's plan to sue the state over crowded juvenile detention facilities.
The American Civil Liberties Union will file a lawsuit in federal court next week accusing the state of cruelly punishing troubled teens by placing them in overcrowded detention facilities.Youth Corrections Director Gary Dalton could not be reached for comment.
Rep. Ray Short, R-Salt Lake, met with Gov. Mike Leavitt Wednesday to discuss the situation. Short is on the legislative bonding committee and heads a task force on youth gangs. The Legislature refused to fund a promised juvenile detention facility in Davis this year.
However, Leavitt has already turned down a plea for a special session to deal with the crisis in the state's juvenile justice system.
The state violates the civil rights of troubled youths by placing them in crowded facilities, said Kathryn Kendell, staff attorney for the ACLU.
"The Salt Lake County detention center has a rated capacity of 56 kids," Kendell said. "On any given day, they have well over 70 kids there. And on weekends, they have 100 or more."
The overcrowding means the troubled youngsters aren't getting the education and counseling the state is supposed to provide.
"With that kind of crowding, the education program almost completely breaks down. All you can focus on is whether the kids are safe, clothed and fed."
Faced with a sea of kids, counselors become babysitters, she said.
The Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice asked Leavitt in April to call a special session to deal with the problem. The commission wanted funding for 34 new probation officers and the construction of the Davis facility.
The 1993 Legislature's refusal to fund that facility prompted the suit, Kendell said. "The facility in Davis County would only have been a drop in the bucket toward a solution, and Youth Corrections didn't even get that."
When lawmakers dropped the facility from its bonding list, "I had Youth Corrections people stop me in the hall of the Capitol and say, `We need to do something about this.' That's what started this whole thing," Kendell said.
"This has been a very friendly suit," she said.