Citing the case of the 11-year-old boy who was sexually assaulted in a D.C. courthouse cell as merely the latest example of what is "a national disgrace . . . like something out of Dickens," a coalition of public interest law firms today filed four separate lawsuits to force an end to the jailing of California children arrested for nonviolent crimes.

Attorneys for the Santa Monica-based Public Justice Foundation and San Francisco's Youth Law Center said the suits were filed in California because this state puts 100,000 children each year into adult jails and lockups, over 20 percent of the national total.

Paul Mones, legal director of the Public Justice Foundation, said that 80 percent of juveniles in adult jails are charged with property offenses, misdemeanors, or status offenses, such as truancy or being beyond the control of parents, which would not be criminal behavior in an adult. Mones warned that incarcerating these children turns jails into "schools for crime. We are creating the criminals of the future."

"We're not saying these kids are angels . . . . We're not suggesting we let dangerous kids out on the street. But we need to really look at who we need to confine." Mones said that the vast majority of jailed children should be released to their families or placed in crises centers or group homes.

Mark Soler, an attorney with the Youth Law Center, said, "This is not an abstract problem. Children die in jails; children are maimed in jails, physically and emotionally maimed." Soler said the criminal justice system must develop "specific criteria for who needs secure confinement."

Soler said it was the absence of such criteria, and "nationally accepted standards" that led to the jailing of the Northwest D.C. boy who was laterforced to commit sodomy by two older juveniles. The attorney suggested that, although witnesses said it was an accident when the boy hit a friend with a baseball bat and social workers recommended against pressing charges, "the police and the U.S. marshal's office had no alternatives."

Defendants in the lawsuits include the California Youth Authority, Los Angeles County, the City of Long Beach, Glenn County and numerous public officials.

Long Beach is charged with the "routine, illegal incarceration" of thousands of minors each year in the city jail, many of them status offenders. A California statute prohibits sight or sound contact between a minor and adult inmate. Los Angeles county is similarly charged. The state Youth Authority is cited for failure to adequately inspect and monitor jails that hold children.

The suit against Glenn, a rural county in northern California, is a wrongful death action prompted by the jail-cell suicide of a 15-year-old girl who was picked up last August because she was out late at night.

Solar said similar lawsuits in other states "have been successfully litigated, and removed children from jails." In one case, a suit against Idaho, a 17-year-old youth who had been picked up for failure to pay parking tickets was beaten to death in a jail cell.

In Ohio, Soler said, a judge decided to make an example of a 15-year-old runaway, and jailed the girl after she returned home voluntarily. She was raped by a deputy jailer.

Virginia, however, was singled out for praise by the attorneys as one of the states that has "taken steps to close its jails to children."

Glenn Radcliffe, of Virginia's Division of Youth Services, said that in the wake of the state legislature's recent passage of a law, effective July 1, that prohibits the jailing of juveniles, "we are in the process of developing group homes and other community alternatives" to jail. Radcliffe added, "We knew it the law was coming, so we've been working in communities to keep kids out of jail." Calif. Suits Attack Jailing Of Children Assault on D.C. Boy Cited by Coalition By Katharine Macdonald Special to The Washingon Post

LOS ANGELES, May 14 -- Citing the case of the 11-year-old boy who was sexually assaulted in a D.C. courthouse cell as merely the latest example of what is "a national disgrace . . . like something out of Dickens," a coalition of public interest law firms today filed four separate lawsuits to force an end to the jailing of California children arrested for nonviolent crimes.

Attorneys for the Santa Monica-based Public Justice Foundation and San Francisco's Youth Law Center said the suits were filed in California because this state puts 100,000 children each year into adult jails and lockups, over 20 percent of the national total.

Paul Mones, legal director of the Public Justice Foundation, said that 80 percent of juveniles in adult jails are charged with property offenses, misdemeanors, or status offenses, such as truancy or being beyond the control of parents, which would not be criminal behavior in an adult. Mones warned that incarcerating these children turns jails into "schools for crime. We are creating the criminals of the future."

"We're not saying these kids are angels . . . . We're not suggesting we let dangerous kids out on the street. But we need to really look at who we need to confine." Mones said that the vast majority of jailed children should be released to their families or placed in crises centers or group homes.

Mark Soler, an attorney with the Youth Law Center, said, "This is not an abstract problem. Children die in jails; children are maimed in jails, physically and emotionally maimed." Soler said the criminal justice system must develop "specific criteria for who needs secure confinement."

Soler said it was the absence of such criteria, and "nationally accepted standards" that led to the jailing of the Northwest D.C. boy who was laterforced to commit sodomy by two older juveniles. The attorney suggested that, although witnesses said it was an accident when the boy hit a friend with a baseball bat and social workers recommended against pressing charges, "the police and the U.S. marshal's office had no alternatives."

Defendants in the lawsuits include the California Youth Authority, Los Angeles County, the City of Long Beach, Glenn County and numerous public officials.

Long Beach is charged with the "routine, illegal incarceration" of thousands of minors each year in the city jail, many of them status offenders. A California statute prohibits sight or sound contact between a minor and adult inmate. Los Angeles county is similarly charged. The state Youth Authority is cited for failure to adequately inspect and monitor jails that hold children.

The suit against Glenn, a rural county in northern California, is a wrongful death action prompted by the jail-cell suicide of a 15-year-old girl who was picked up last August because she was out late at night.

Solar said similar lawsuits in other states "have been successfully litigated, and removed children from jails." In one case, a suit against Idaho, a 17-year-old youth who had been picked up for failure to pay parking tickets was beaten to death in a jail cell.

In Ohio, Soler said, a judge decided to make an example of a 15-year-old runaway, and jailed the girl after she returned home voluntarily. She was raped by a deputy jailer.

Virginia, however, was singled out for praise by the attorneys as one of the states that has "taken steps to close its jails to children."

Glenn Radcliffe, of Virginia's Division of Youth Services, said that in the wake of the state legislature's recent passage of a law, effective July 1, that prohibits the jailing of juveniles, "we are in the process of developing group homes and other community alternatives" to jail. Radcliffe added, "We knew it the law was coming, so we've been working in communities to keep kids out of jail."