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Senator asks for investigation of Toledo juvenile home, governor hints at changes

(Radio Iowa) – A state senator who represents Toledo is asking for the legislature’s Government Oversight Committee to investigate the Toledo home for female delinquents where some teens were kept in isolation for months at a time. Meanwhile, Governor Branstad hints at a big announcement about the home’s future, but is providing few details.

“I want to take quick action on dealing with the culture we have there,” Branstad says.

Senator Steve Sodders of State Center says it’s time for legislators to step in and review the management of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo.

“I think we’ve got to have some sort of an independent look at what was going on prior to the complaint,” Sodders says.

Branstad plans some sort of announcement “this week” about the Toledo facility, but he’s not saying what it might be.

“I believe that we shouldn’t wait for the legislature and I intend to work with Chuck Palmer in the Department of Human Services and also with Disability (Rights) Iowa and others that have expressed concerns,” Branstad says.

Disability Rights Iowa advocates visited the home late last year and found three young women being held in isolation cells, one for nearly a year. Isolation has been in use there since the 1990s, during Branstad’s previous run as governor. The home’s superintendent quit this past February. Senator Sodders says the Oversight Committee should hold hearings to find out exactly how management decided isolation rooms were appropriate.

“What have they done since the first complaints came out,” Sodders says. “…We haven’t seen a whole lot of movement from the governor’s office.”

The governor has suggested it might be time to privatize the home. The governor today said he’ll be “taking action in the near future.”

“Then, of course, we want to include the involvement and assistance of the legislature, but I think that legislators – just like I — were surprised to find out these kind of activities were occurring at Toledo,” Branstad said during his weekly news conference. “We think it’s wrong and I want to make sure that the changes are made and that they’re made sooner rather than later.”

Senator Sodders says privatizing the home would be a mistake.

“(Branstad’s) been trying to cut down public employees by 15 percent since he’s been in office,” Sodders says. “Well, we don’t have enough staff at a lot of our facilities right now to do an adequate job, so we need to review that, too.”

Sodders says the legislature’s Government Oversight Committee needs to figure out why Branstad’s Department of Human Services didn’t know about the isolation rooms, since the facility is under that agency’s control. The Toledo home also violated federal law by denying education to some of the teenage girls.