Youth Prisons Are Under Scrutiny

Youth Prisoner Injured while in Custody | Photo: Richard Ross

We’re using the mnemonic, l-o-c-k-e-d u-p, to show some of the main characteristics of a youth prison in a series of articles, Locked Up: What is a Youth Prison? One of those characteristics is that youth prisons are under scrutiny.

What youth prisons are under scrutiny?

Lawsuits. Oversight reports. Media investigations. Youth grievances. Family concerns. Community complaints. Youth prisons are rife with these. The track record of youth prisons over the past fifty years is abysmal as almost every state has experienced systemic or recurring maltreatment of youth in youth prisons and more than fifty lawsuits have been filed. According to Maltreatment of Youth in U.S. Corrections Facilities, the number of states where there have been investigations, oversight issues, lawsuits and allegations of abuse has increased from 22 states to 29 states in the past five years.

Here are some examples:

For the Lincoln Hills School and the Copper Lake School in Wisconsin “under scrutiny” would be an “under statement.” Lincoln Hills School for boys, designed as the largest youth prisons in the United States at 559 beds, and its’ companion facility, the Copper Hills School where roughly 40 girls are housed, are under investigation over allegations of abuse, excessive use of force and retaliation against accusers. Former Wisconsin Department of Corrections Director Ed Wall reported in 2016 that the correctional staff at the facility had shredded complaints from the youth about conditions at the facility.

The Lincoln Hills School | Photo: The Marshall Project

More than one entity is investigating. In December, 2015, federal and state officials were reported to have raided both facilities after a year-long investigation and in February, 2016, it was reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation took over the investigation, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is considering a civil rights investigation. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has done extensive investigative reporting on the facility and catalogued all of the articles in a special section on their website.

“Lincoln Hills represents a failed model that just can’t be fixed,” said Jeff Roman of Youth Justice Milwaukee, a coalition of organizations that has called for the closure of Lincoln Hills in a recent report, Safer Communities, Stronger Families.

The Illinois Youth Center at Kewanee | Photo: Google Earth

In Illinois, the Illinois Youth Center at Kewanee, a facility designed for 354 youth, has been under scrutiny by state and local advocates, such as the John Howard Association. The Association’s most recent monitoring report on the Illinois Youth Center in Kewanee found that facility youth were placed in isolation 1,170 times from July 2012 to July 2013, for an average of two and one half days each. Governor Rauner has announced that he will close the facility.

The Adobe Mountain Schools | Photo: The Arizona Republic

Adobe Mountain Schools, established in 1972, in Arizona to house 456 boys and 158 girls, has been under scrutiny by state advocates, media and attorneys for over a decade. An October, 2015 report of staff sexual assault on youth follows previous news coverage of harm to children at the facility Advocates in Arizona, including the Arizona Children’s Action Alliance and the Morrison Institute have called for its’ closure.

The Nevada Youth Training Center | Photo: The Elko Daily Free Press

The Nevada Youth Training Center (NYTC), established in 1913 to house 160 youth, has a very high sexual victimization report rate according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) which found a 21.30% sexual victimization report rate. Press reports between 2002 and 2014 show a history of abuse of youth.

The Connecticut Juvenile Training School | Photo: The CT Mirror

Connecticut’s youth prison, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS), has been under scrutiny over the last several years, stemming from a July, 2015 report by the CT Office of Child Advocate (OCA) that showed high levels of restraints of youth. OCA released eight surveillance videos to show the use of restraints. The Pueblo Unit has now been closed and Governor Malloy stated that he would close the youth prison by July 1, 2018.

The Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility | Photo: The Palm Baech Post

Florida’s Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility has been under scrutiny since a video was released showing youth fighting while guards watched. Two guards were fired, and several others were suspended. The DJJ has announced they’ve selected a new company to run the local facility after YSI decided to end its contract early. The new company selected to run the local juvenile facility is Sequel TSI, which took over in April 2016 with a five-year contract and the company is now running four facilities in Florida.

Arkansas’ Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center | Photo: Arkansas Department of Health & Human Services

Arkansas’ Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center, run by private security company G4S, has been under scrutiny since a 2014 Disability Rights Center of Arkansas (DRC) report on the conditions inside the facility citing a 98 percent increase in assaults on youth over the previous year, culminating in the firing of an employee two months ago for assault.


From ‘Maltreatment of Youth in U.S. Juvenile Correctional Facilities’ | by The Annie E. Casey Foundation

Maryland’s youth prisons have been under scrutiny by the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, the state’s oversight body located in the Office of the Attorney General. In its most recent quarterly report the unit concluded that, “The Department should sustain these efforts while shifting from the use of large, congregate residential facilities to a continuum of community-based programs where youth can receive comprehensive and individualized services from professional providers.”

What does this mean?

No region of the country is exempt from being under scrutiny on how youth are treated in youth prisons.

These kinds of investigations have been going on, since the start of the youth prison model more than 150 years ago.

Given the increase in abuse in these facilities, it underscores how this approach is inherently flawed and can’t be fixed.

Look for “P” next …