As Abuses Revealed at Youth Prisons, Another State Pledges to Abandon the Model

Posted December 23, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog asabusesrevealed 2015

Richard Ross for Juvenile in Justice

Casey Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent and CEO Patrick McCarthy deliv­ered a TEDx talk on juve­nile incar­cer­a­tion in June 2015 argu­ing that the con­tin­u­ing stream of mal­treat­ment rev­e­la­tions should remove any remain­ing doubt that large con­ven­tion­al juve­nile cor­rec­tions facil­i­ties — or plain­ly stat­ed, youth pris­ons — are inher­ent­ly prone to abuse. Even more recent alle­ga­tions of abuse under­score the urgency of McCarthy’s call to replace youth pris­ons with alter­na­tives that can ensure safe, healthy and ther­a­peu­tic care for the small seg­ment of the youth pop­u­la­tion who tru­ly require confinement.

In a series of front page sto­ries this month, the Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel has detailed a ghast­ly sit­u­a­tion at Wisconsin’s last remain­ing juve­nile prison complex.

On Decem­ber 5, 2015, a team of fifty state inves­ti­ga­tors and attor­neys descend­ed on the Lin­coln Hills School for Boys and Cop­per Lake School for Girls, locat­ed side by side in north­ern Wis­con­sin. The raid marked the cul­mi­na­tion of two inves­ti­ga­tions that uncov­ered ram­pant vio­lence, abuse and cor­rup­tion inside the facil­i­ties. Spe­cif­ic alle­ga­tions include sex­u­al assault, phys­i­cal child abuse, child neglect, abuse of pris­on­ers, stran­gu­la­tion and suf­fo­ca­tion, intim­i­da­tion of vic­tims and wit­ness­es, exces­sive use of pep­per spray, tam­per­ing with pub­lic records and mis­con­duct in pub­lic office. The state’s direc­tor of juve­nile cor­rec­tions and the super­in­ten­dent of the twin facil­i­ties resigned two days before the raid. Reporters also revealed that 10 staffers had been placed on leave dur­ing the pre­vi­ous year due to alle­ga­tions of misconduct.

As the Casey Foun­da­tion has doc­u­ment­ed, abus­es are any­thing but rare in America’s juve­nile pris­ons. Mal­treat­ment of Youth in U.S. Juve­nile Cor­rec­tions Facil­i­ties describes con­clu­sive evi­dence of recur­ring or sys­temic abuse in 29 states just since 2000 and sub­stan­tial evi­dence of recurring/​systemic abuse in many oth­er states.

With the new rev­e­la­tions, Wis­con­sin becomes the 30th state where sys­temic and recur­ring mal­treat­ment has been doc­u­ment­ed since 2000. Nor is Wis­con­sin the only state where new alle­ga­tions of abuse rev­e­la­tions have emerged. In Nebras­ka, new data revealed con­tin­u­ing overuse of soli­tary con­fine­ment. In Flori­da, riots erupt­ed in two state-fund­ed facil­i­ties, con­tin­u­ing a tor­rent of abuse reports that have plagued Florida’s juve­nile cor­rec­tions facil­i­ties for more than a cen­tu­ry. In Arkansas, more than 800 vio­lent inci­dents occurred last year in the state’s largest youth cor­rec­tions facil­i­ty, which hous­es about 100 youth, and 176 instances of attempt­ed sui­cide or self-harm occurred in the first six months of 2015.

Per­haps the most shock­ing rev­e­la­tions have come from Con­necti­cut. In July, the state’s child advo­cate released the find­ings of an 18-month inves­ti­ga­tion doc­u­ment­ing at least two dozen acts of attempt­ed sui­cide or self-injury from June 2014 to Feb­ru­ary 2015 at the state’s only youth prison for boys, the Con­necti­cut Juve­nile Train­ing School, and a small­er state-run unit for girls. Youth were phys­i­cal­ly restrained 532 times in the facil­i­ties from July 2014 through June 2015 and were placed in shack­les or hand­cuffs 134 times, the inves­ti­ga­tion found. Accord­ing to the report, each month, about 30 per­cent of con­fined youth were sub­ject­ed to a phys­i­cal or mechan­i­cal restraint and about the same num­ber were placed in seclu­sion, often in a padded iso­la­tion cell.

In response to these find­ings, Con­necti­cut leg­is­la­tors con­vened a series of high pro­file hear­ings on youth cor­rec­tions. Advo­cates in the state and many leg­is­la­tors called for the clo­sure of the train­ing school – to be replaced with a net­work of small­er, more treat­ment-ori­ent­ed and less prison-like facil­i­ties. Lead­ers from the Con­necti­cut Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies, which oper­ates the facil­i­ties, announced a series of reform steps, but they argued against closure.

How­ev­er, ear­li­er this month, Con­necti­cut Gov­er­nor Dan­nel Mal­loy announced in an NPR inter­view that he intends to close the train­ing school by mid-2018. Mal­loy also recent­ly pro­posed that Con­necti­cut become the first state in U.S. his­to­ry to raise the age of juve­nile or fam­i­ly court juris­dic­tion beyond age 18.

Tak­en as a whole, these lat­est alle­ga­tions and find­ings of abuse – not only in Wis­con­sin and Con­necti­cut but in the oth­er states as well – serve to under­score the need for more states to fol­low Gov­er­nor Malloy’s lead. As Patrick McCarthy said in June, sys­tems across the nation need to close youth pris­ons and replace them with strate­gies that sup­port youth growth and devel­op­ment. It’s long past time to close these inhu­mane, inef­fec­tive, waste­ful fac­to­ries of fail­ure once and for all,” McCarthy argued. Every one of them.”

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