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Navigating Your Way Through Class-Action Lawsuits

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 66 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2004 Pages: 28-31
Elijah Lewis; Simon Gonsoulin
Date Published
February 2004
4 pages
This article describes initiatives that contributed to the success of Louisiana's juvenile justice education programs under a 1999 agreement negotiated by the Louisiana Department of Corrections and Public Safety, private plaintiffs, and the U.S. Justice Department.
The agreement was occasioned by a Justice Department investigation during the late 1990's that focused on quality-of-life issues in Louisiana's secure-care juvenile facilities, including protection from harm; medical, dental, and mental health services; and meeting the educational needs of the juveniles. Although there were several initiatives that contributed to the success of Louisiana's juvenile justice educational programs and ultimately to the dismissal of the settlement agreements in January 2003, there were five key initiatives that contributed to the improvement in educational services for juvenile residents. They included the writing of an implementation plan, the establishment of facility leadership teams, the creation of individual learning plans for each student, conducting the child search process, and monitoring quality assurance. The implementation plan referenced each paragraph of the agreement and defined the course of action the State would take to meet the terms of each requirement. A leadership team was established at each school to serve as a catalyst for change. The teams consisted of school administrators; regular, special, and vocational educators; guidance counselors; librarians; and assessment staff. Within 14 calendar days of intake, the diagnostic center educational staff initiated the first of two phases of the individual learning plan for each juvenile entering the facility. The child search activity begun 3 years ago promotes an active search and decisionmaking by an informed staff regarding juveniles with disabilities. School personnel and treatment personnel review reports, data assessments, prior school records, and historical treatment to determine whether there may be a learning disability. The quality assurance/program improvement component of the educational programs was the single most important initiative that brought the juvenile justice schools into full compliance with the settlement agreement. The levels of quality assurance ranged from monthly record review to quarterly site visits led by the State director of education and central office educational staff. Multiple data sources and various data-collection procedures were established to obtain a reliable assessment of professional practices and performance.