NMPASI Granted Access

December 17, 2010

It's sad and rather pathetic that the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc. (NMPASI) had to sue Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Melvin Faisao to gain rightful access to the Juvenile Detention Center.

A pre-trial conference and motion hearing was held on December 16, 2010. At the beginning of the hearing a letter from DCCA Secretary Melvin Faisao was presented to the court. It simply stated:
Dear Mr. Holley: 
It is my understanding that the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems, Inc. (NMPASI) would like access to the Juvenile Detention Unit (JDU). In particular, NMPASI would like access to JDU detainees to determine if they are in need of NMPASI services. You may have access to the JDU subject to the provisions of 42 USC P 10801, et seq.; 42 USC 6 15001, et seq. and 29 USC 6 794e, et seq. Please coordinate with our legal counsel, Assistant Attorney General James T. Mitchell.
It seems that the OAG finally figured out that they had no case so they had Faisao submit the letter in an attempt to have the case dismissed. That move was rather late.  The defendant claimed that the letter "mooted the lawsuit" and a motion was made to dismiss it "based on "lack of case or controversy."

The judge denied their motion, writing in his order:
"The letter provided by Defendant, while a heartening show of goodwill, does not have the effect of law and could be withdrawn or ignored the moment that this lawsuit was dismissed. If the letter is ignored, the same injury would be repeated. Second, the injury complained of, lack of access, is of extremely limited duration, so it would always be moot before litigation was complete."
The judge's order lays out requirements to ensure ongoing compliance. NMPASI will be issued access to the juvenile detention center to investigate any allegations of abuse and for educational/training. The judge ordered:
NMPASI shall be provided two types of access to the JDU, investigations and educational/training. Investigations relate to allegations of abuse and neglect if reported to NMPASI. This access includes access to all residents of JDU as well as records relating to those residents determined to have a mental illness or developmental disability and other disabilities. NMPASI staff has legal authority to review records of a resident when a complaint has been received or there is probable cause to believe that a resident has been subject to abuse or neglect. NMPASI has no general right of access to a resident’s records. NMPASI shall be given the opportunity to meet with clients without JDU staff or their agents or affiliates present. NMPASI will have the right to enter without previous notice for investigations, but should attempt to make visits during normal business hours. If NMPASI staff is gaining access for investigative purposes, it should so state. 
For educational and training, NMPASI shall be provided access to residents and staff as well as all areas of the JDU accessible to residents. NMPASI is authorized to inspect and photograph all areas accessible to residents. Photographs may only be taken to document evidence of suspected abuse or neglect of a resident. NMPASI staff may be accompanied by a JDU staff member while inspecting the facilities, but NMPASI shall have reasonable, unencumbered access to residents. NMPASI shall give 24 hour notice of their intended visit and only conduct educational/training visits during business hours.
The judge ordered that the defendant had to pay statuatory costs arising from the lawsuit. So once again, because the administration refused to do the right thing, the taxpayers will pay.

I agree with NMPASI Attorney Matt Holley that the matter could have been resolved without going to court. How cruel that DCCA would block access to NMPASI denying children with disabilities federally-mandated assistance.

The DCCA has not been providing the required educational classes for the juveniles being held in the juvenile detention center. Additionally, a guard has been charged with the sexual assault of three minor children being held in the center.  It appears that the administration has unqualified political appointees running and working in this agency, as is their practice.

It will be interesting to see what else NMPASI uncovers at the center. I am just glad that the children will be given the advocacy and protection that they deserve and will be ensured essential services.