DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa's executive branch agreed Monday to spend $235,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former resident of the now-shuttered Iowa Juvenile Home who claims she was held in prison-like cells for 280 days.
The settlement with Jessica Turner is the first stemming from concerns about the treatment of residents at the Toledo-based home, which prompted Gov. Terry Branstad to abruptly close the institution for troubled girls last year.
Under the agreement approved by the State Appeals Board, the state will pay $141,000 to Turner and $94,000 to her attorneys but not admit any wrongdoing.
In exchange, Turner will dismiss pending claims in federal court alleging the conditions of her confinement amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and deprived her of liberty without due process. She will also drop a related action in state court that alleged the state was negligent in failing to train and supervise home employees, arguing the use of seclusion violated its own policies.
Turner's lawsuit alleged that she had previously been hospitalized for psychiatric episodes and was placed at the juvenile home as a 16-year-old in March 2011 after being declared a delinquent and a child in need of assistance. Once there, she was diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, mood disorder and mild cognitive disabilities, among other problems.
For weeks at a time, she was kept in small, cement cell-like rooms that the institution called "quiet rooms," ''safety rooms," ''comfort rooms" and "the special unit," the lawsuit alleged. She would often cry and repeatedly tell the staff she was in pain and wanted out, even banging her head against the cement walls in an attempt to get their attention, it claimed.
She was only allowed to exit the cell to use the restroom and would otherwise be locked in and not allowed any homework, classroom instruction, reading materials or outside communication, the lawsuit alleged. She was given a thin mat to sleep on the concrete floor and required to eat her meals in the cell. In all, she claimed she spent more than half of her 18-month stay at the juvenile home in isolation before she was discharged shortly before her 18th birthday.
Disability Rights Iowa uncovered the excessive use of seclusion, the use of physical restraints against residents and a lack of educational offerings at the home after a monitoring visit in 2012. Jane Hudson, the group's executive director, said she was glad to learn of the settlement agreement Monday.
"In addition to the home being closed, I think this is a good approach. People were being abused and neglected and isolated for long periods of time," she said.
State officials said one other lawsuit brought by a former home resident remains pending.
A judge ruled last year that the governor overstepped his bounds in closing the home without the approval of lawmakers. But the Iowa Supreme Court declined earlier this year to order the home reopened, saying lawmakers effectively accepted the closure by failing to fund its operations in last year's budget.