Abuses Show Danger and Ineffectiveness of Residential Confinement for Youth

Posted March 10, 2016
Blog abusesshowdanger 2016

Richard Ross for Juvenile in Justice

New rev­e­la­tions of abu­sive treat­ment of youth have sur­faced in res­i­den­tial facil­i­ties in Flori­da, Iowa and Ken­tucky, pro­vid­ing fur­ther evi­dence that our res­i­den­tial con­fine­ment mod­el for young peo­ple isn’t work­ing and must be rethought.

While the cir­cum­stances dif­fered, all three sto­ries show a wor­ri­some dis­re­gard for the well-being of young peo­ple con­fined due to delin­quen­cy and behav­ioral dif­fi­cul­ties. As the Foun­da­tion doc­u­ment­ed in our report, Mal­treat­ment of Youth in U.S. Juve­nile Cor­rec­tions Facil­i­ties, juve­nile insti­tu­tions are inher­ent­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to abuse. More impor­tant­ly, as we doc­u­ment­ed in No Place for Kids, heavy reliance on cor­rec­tion­al con­fine­ment is not only dan­ger­ous, it’s inef­fec­tive at reha­bil­i­tat­ing kids and improv­ing pub­lic safe­ty. What works bet­ter are alter­na­tives to con­fine­ment that hold kids account­able and pro­vide them with the guid­ance, edu­ca­tion and sup­port net­work they need to become suc­cess­ful adults.

  • In Flori­da, the Trea­sure Coast Palm news­pa­pers print­ed the lat­est in a series of alarm­ing sto­ries about the Mar­tin Girls Acad­e­my, a pri­vate­ly oper­at­ed 30-bed max­i­mum secu­ri­ty facil­i­ty. The sto­ry not­ed that police have been called to the facil­i­ty on 53 occa­sions since May 2015 to deal with assaults, sui­cide attempts, dis­or­der­ly con­duct and oth­er inci­dents. The sto­ry cit­ed an inspec­tor gen­er­al report find­ing that an employ­ee used exces­sive force in tack­ling a detainee dur­ing a May 2015 mini-riot,” and the facility’s direc­tor improp­er­ly turned away police after a detainee dialed 911 after being assault­ed by oth­er residents.
  • In Iowa, a flur­ry of media sto­ries detailed abus­es in a pri­vate­ly oper­at­ed facil­i­ty, Mid­west Acad­e­my, where behav­ioral­ly trou­bled youth were locked in iso­la­tion cells and forced to sit or stand in spe­cif­ic pos­tures for hours on end. Police were called to the facil­i­ty 80 times in the past three years, the Des Moines Reg­is­ter report­ed, and in 19 cas­es the Iowa Depart­ment of Human Ser­vices inves­ti­ga­tions deter­mined that youth in the facil­i­ty had been abused. Yet because the facil­i­ty did not con­fine youth in the juve­nile jus­tice or child wel­fare sys­tems, Mid­west Acad­e­my went entire­ly unreg­u­lat­ed. Until it was raid­ed by law enforce­ment offi­cials in late Jan­u­ary, the facil­i­ty had nev­er been inspect­ed or mon­i­tored by any state agency.
  • The third alarm­ing sto­ry came from Ken­tucky, where the state’s Com­mis­sion­er of Juve­nile Jus­tice was fired for his role in a botched inves­ti­ga­tion into the death of 16-year-old Gyn­nya McMillen in Jan­u­ary. McMillen, who had nev­er been arrest­ed pre­vi­ous­ly, was detained fol­low­ing a domes­tic dis­pute and was phys­i­cal­ly restrained for refus­ing to take off her sweat­shirt. Staff did not check on McMillen every 15 min­utes, as required, even when McMillen did not respond to offers of food or a phone call from her moth­er. Even after they final­ly entered the girl’s cell and found her uncon­scious, the local CBS News affil­i­ate report­ed, staff wait­ed 11 min­utes before attempt­ing to resus­ci­tate her.

In a recent col­umn, juve­nile rights attor­ney Kim Tandy lament­ed the exces­sive use of force and lax super­vi­sion in the facil­i­ty as well as the con­tin­u­ing reliance on deten­tion and con­fine­ment for trou­bled youth.

Study after study has doc­u­ment­ed the harms of deten­tion to chil­dren, and the val­ue in using more evi­dence-based and research-informed alter­na­tives,” Tandy wrote. Lock­ing up youth should be a last alter­na­tive and only when pub­lic safe­ty is threat­ened or a court can­not oth­er­wise secure the appear­ance of a child, and then for no longer than necessary.”

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