Abuses Show Danger and Ineffectiveness of Residential Confinement for Youth

Posted March 10, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
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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