New Jersey and its medical school will pay $400,000 to settle a suit charging that placement of two minors in solitary confinement without proper care caused their mental health to deteriorate.
The federal suit, alleging violation of procedural and substantive due process, named 25 staffers from the state Juvenile Justice Commission and seven mental health practitioners with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
One of the plaintiffs, Troy Donini, spent 178 days off and on in solitary confinement in JJC facilities starting at the age of 15, and the other, O’Neill Santiago, spent 50 days intermittently in solitary confinement when he was 16.
Donini was in a JJC facility after being adjudicated delinquent for violation of probation, criminal sexual contact, aggravated assault and criminal restraint. He was placed in solitary confinement in February 2009 and held there intermittently through that October.
Before entering the juvenile justice system, he allegedly was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder and mood disorder.
The suit said that while in JJC facilities, he engaged in self-mutiliation, experienced hallucinations and tried to commit suicide, but received limited mental health treatment, with therapy sessions lasting 22 minutes.
Santiago was placed in solitary confinement in a JJC facility in May 2009 after walking away from a residential substance abuse program.
Santiago, who was eligible for special education classes, was placed in solitary confinement for his own protection because he was repeatedly assaulted by other inmates, but no attempts were made at less-restrictive means to protect him, according to the suit.
He also was placed intermittently in solitary confinement as punishment for infractions that included an altercation with a guard.
The suit alleged that state officials violated regulations affording due process to incarcerated juveniles before they are placed in solitary confinement.
The state also allegedly failed to keep cells at a reasonable temperature, and ran afoul of state regulations by denying the plaintiffs access to reading materials and other personal belongings and keeping them in solitary for more than five days at a time and 10 days out of every 30.
New Jersey also violated Department of Justice standards prohibiting juveniles to being placed in solitary confinement for more than 24 hours at a time, the suit alleged.
The defendants moved to dismiss, claiming the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, but U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas in Camden denied their motion in August 2011.
Under the agreement approved by Irenas on Dec. 3, Donini will get $130,000. Santiago has since died; his estate will receive $20,000. The Juvenile Law Center of Philadelphia, which represented the plaintiffs, will get $100,000 and $150,000 will go toward expert fees and costs.
The plaintiffs were represented by Bruce Clark, a solo in Princeton, and Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center.
When the suit was filed in June 2010, Clark was with Dechert in Princeton. He and the firm waived their fees. The Juvenile Law Center’s $100,000 fee recovery represents a small portion of its lodestar of $768,406.
The defendants were represented by Deputy Attorney General Susan Scott and Florham Park solo Michael Lunga.
Lee Moore, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, and Clark decline to comment.
JJC and UMDNJ, now part of Rutgers University, will each pay $200,000.
JJC spokeswoman Sharon Lauchaire confirms the settlement. Levick and Lunga did not return calls by press time.
Jeff Tolvin, a spokesman for Rutgers, declines to comment.