Report: Iowa school uses full-body wraps, denies mental care

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa school for juvenile offenders subjects the boys to restraints and seclusion rooms and denies them essential mental health care, a federally funded nonprofit organization alleged Monday in a report that threatened legal action unless the state makes significant changes.

Disability Rights Iowa concluded the Boys State Training School doesn’t have enough mental health professionals, locks up children by themselves and restrains them in beds with full-body wraps. It made the assessment after 11 visits to the facility, interviews with 30 residents and a review of records.

The group said the school’s shortcomings were part of larger problems throughout the state’s system for juvenile offenders.

“This is basically the tip of the iceberg,” said Nathan Kirstein, a staff attorney for the organization. “This is not because this is an evil, deviant place, and if we fix it all our problems will go away. This is symptomatic of all the gaps in services along the way for these youths.”

Congress in the 1970s established the disability rights organizations to help ensure states don’t violate the constitutional rights of disabled residents.

The Iowa organization made numerous recommendations for changes in its report and threatened to file a federal lawsuit against Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Department of Human Services administrator and other officials if changes aren’t implemented. After the organization made similar claims in 2013 against the State Training School for Girls in Toledo, then-Gov. Terry Branstad ordered the institution closed.

School Superintendent Mark Day said he agreed with the report’s call for expanded mental health services but argued that funding limits and a statewide shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists made it difficult to provide more treatment.

“I don’t know of anybody in this field who wouldn’t love to have more psychiatric, psychological, therapeutic services,” Day said. “… There’s an increasing shortage of those folks that are willing to work in a correctional, juvenile mental health facility.”