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Justice Department to investigate Kentucky juvenile prisons after use of force, solitary confinement complaints

FRANKFURT, Ky. — Federal investigators will examine conditions in Kentucky’s youth detention centers and determine whether the state has done enough to protect juveniles housed there, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

The federal investigation follows a Kentucky auditor’s report that the state’s juvenile justice system had ongoing problems with the use of force and seclusion techniques in detention centers.

“We are launching this investigation to ensure that children in Kentucky’s youth detention centers are safe from harm, receive adequate mental health care, and receive appropriate special education services,” the prosecutor said. Deputy General Kristen Clarke in a statement. “All children held in state custody deserve safe and humane conditions that can lead to true rehabilitation and reform.

The investigation will examine whether Kentucky protects juveniles in facilities from excessive force by staff as well as prolonged solitary confinement, violence and sexual abuse, the Justice Department said. A federal lawsuit filed in January alleged that two teenage girls detained at a county facility were kept in solitary confinement cells for weeks in unsanitary conditions, and another was kept in a padded cell without a toilet.

Federal investigators will also examine whether Kentucky provides adequate mental health services and required special education and related services to young people with disabilities, he said.

“Containment in the juvenile justice system should help children avoid future contact with law enforcement and become productive, law-abiding members.” Too often, juvenile justice facilities break our children, exposing them to dangerous and traumatic conditions,” said Clarke, who works in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The statewide investigation will examine conditions at eight youth detention centers and one youth development center operated by the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice.

The state will cooperate with the federal investigation while advocating “for the safety of its personnel,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a statement.

Keith Jackson, the state’s Secretary of Justice and Public Safety, added: “We look forward to speaking with the Department of Justice, because to date, no member of our leadership has been questioned and we do not We didn’t have the opportunity to do so. discuss any incidents, policies or issues with the Department of Justice.

Beshear recently hired longtime state Corrections Director Randy White to take over as state commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice. White’s predecessor became a lightning rod for criticism as the state-run system struggled to quell outbreaks of violence in detention centers.

Kentucky’s juvenile justice system is struggling to accommodate a growing number of young people accused of violent crimes. The result was a series of assaults, riots and escapes as well as incidents of abuse and neglect of young people in juvenile detention centers.

A riot broke out in 2022 at a detention center, leaving young people and staff injured. Order was restored after state police and other law enforcement officers entered the facility. In another incident, juveniles kicked and punched staff during an attack at another center.

Beshear responded with policy changes to try to quell the violence.

He announced, among other things, that youths accused of serious crimes would be separated from suspected lower-level offenders, and that “defense equipment” — pepper spray and Tasers — was being provided so that detention center employees can defend themselves and others in the event of attack.

“Over the past four years, the administration has implemented the most far-reaching reforms to the Department of Juvenile Justice since its inception,” the Democratic governor said Wednesday.

As problems worsened, Kentucky lawmakers responded by allocating funds to raise salaries for juvenile justice employees, hire more correctional officers, improve security at detention centers and increase prison services. diversion and treatment for juvenile detainees.

Kentucky Senate President David Givens, a Republican, said Wednesday he hoped the investigation would “serve as a crucial wake-up call” for the Beshear administration.

“This is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the well-being of Kentucky’s troubled youth and to ensuring the safety of staff at these facilities,” Givens said in a statement.

ABC News

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