Friday, February 21, 2014

Polk County Judge Orders Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo to be Re-Opened // Updated on 02/07/14: Gov. Branstad to Appeal this Decision to the Iowa Supreme Court // Updated on 02/21/14: Iowa Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Arguments over IJH's Closure

(Originally written on 02/05/14): On December 9, 2013, the Iowa Department of Human Services and Governor Terry Branstad announced that they were going to close to Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo, IA, as soon as possible. The 21 residents receiving treatment there were discharged from the facility in Toledo in the rough span of one month. Six were sent back to their homes. 15 were sent to other licensed and/or accredited facilities throughout Iowa. One was sent to a temporary shelter placement. And the final resident was placed in a temporary juvenile detention program. And the IJH program ended up closing down by January 16, 2014.

IJH was a residential treatment program for delinquent and CINA (child in need of assistance) girls who it had been determined could not be treated safely elsewhere. They stayed within the treatment program for 5-9 months on average and most had mental health diagnoses.

Concerns have been expressed about IJH's closing. Correctional officers and DHS case workers were particularly concerned that they just lost one key placement option for troubled youth in this state. Several of the former IJH residents were sent to less intensive facilities who had previously rejected them and asserted that they weren't capable of meeting their needs. And, of course, there's now 93 Iowans who just had their careers snatched from them.

A lawsuit was filed on January 2, 2014, to stop the closure of IJH by Danny Homan (president of AFSCME), Senator Steven Sodders, Senator (and Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Jack Hatch, Rep. Pat Murphy, and Mark Smith, and Rep. Mark Smith.

Today, Judge Scott Rosenburg ruled against Gov. Branstad and DHS Director Charles Palmer and ordered that the IJH program in Toledo be re-opened:
"The legislature intended that the Toledo facility be established and operate and that the money so appropriated be used for salaries, support, maintenance and miscellaneous purposes," reads the court documents. "But to totally eliminate the operations of the Toledo Home under the guise of the language 'or so much thereof as is necessary' is to essentially ignore the laws of the State of Iowa as enacted lawfully by the General Assembly and allows the Executive branch to unilaterally decide which laws it will obey and which laws it will not...

"If the Governor of the State of Iowa decided that the Toledo Home should not operate, he had the opportunity to end its operation when the appropriations bill was placed upon his desk for signature. At that point the Governor could have vetoed the bill. To later, however, decide that the Toledo Home should no longer operate under any circumstances is not only a failure to carry out his Constitutional duties to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, but is an affront to the very purpose and establishment of our governmental institutions as adopted by the Constitution of the State of Iowa with the approval of the people of the State of Iowa. The danger in allowing such an action to happen is the destruction of our republican form of government itself and the democracy which it is designed to serve for the general welfare of all of its citizens."
Danny Homan of AFSCME issued the following response:
We are pleased that the court has sided with the plaintiffs by opening the Iowa Juvenile Home. Iowa’s young girls are the real winners in this decision. For the sake of the safety of Iowa’s children, the governor should immediately comply with this court order and reopen the Iowa Juvenile Home as instructed by the District Court.
Senator Jack Hatch also responded to the news:
Today an Iowa District Court judge ruled Governor Branstad must reverse his reckless, ill-considered decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home at Toledo, which housed some of the state's most troubled youth. This is a victory for the girls Terry Branstad put in jeopardy of serious harm to themselves or others, but it reveals a scary pattern in the way this Governor does business.
The judge is the latest in a long line of Iowans who have tried to get Terry Branstad to follow the law. The ruling is another example of how this Governor operates above the law, without accountability or respect for the rule of law. As the judge wrote, the Branstad administration cannot unilaterally decide which laws to obey and which laws it will not.
So far, the Governor's actions have resulted in at least two girls running away and going missing, and we still don’t have a handle on exactly how many may have been lost. Keeping track of at-risk children who are in the Department of Human Services (DHS) system is one of the most serious core functions of government. At this, Branstad has failed. A complete accounting of the whereabouts of the girls who have been lost should be provided immediately by DHS.
My colleagues and I in the Iowa Senate will continue to investigate and seek answers, above all to protect the children involved. But we’ll also continue to ask what so many Iowans have asked this Governor: when, sir, did you start believing you no longer needed to follow our laws?
I haven't yet seen any statements from Gov. Branstad or from DHS Director Charles Palmer.

I think it's fair to say that this story isn't over yet. It is anticipated that the Branstad administration will appeal this decision and if that happens then the IJH facility won't immediately re-open.

Updated on 02/07/14: As expected, Gov. Terry Branstad has indicated that his administration will ask the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn this court decision ordering the re-opening of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo, IA.

Updated on 02/21/14: The Iowa Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether Gov. Terry Branstad had the power to unilaterally close down the Iowa Juvenile Home. The Iowa Supreme Court also undid an earlier court order calling for the immediate reopening of the IJH.

It's unclear when the Iowa Supreme Court will hear this case.

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