Kentucky Juvenile Justice Facilities Face Allegations of Abuse

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched a civil rights investigation into Kentucky’s juvenile justice facilities. This investigation will examine the conditions and practices within these centers, which have raised significant concerns regarding the treatment of juveniles.

The investigation is led by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky. The focus is on potential violations of constitutional and federal statutory rights of juveniles, particularly related to allegations of abuse, neglect, and inadequate mental health care. This scrutiny comes after reports highlighted numerous systemic deficiencies across several juvenile facilities in Kentucky, including inadequate abuse investigations, improper use of isolation, and insufficient mental health screenings and staffing.

According to the DOJ, many of these facilities fail to conduct proper abuse investigations. The procedures in place are convoluted and ineffective, often leading to suppression of complaints. Youths are required to fill out forms with staff assistance, which can deter them from reporting due to fear of retribution. Additionally, there is a significant backlog of complaints, and severe incidents often remain uninvestigated.

The use of isolation rooms is another critical issue. The DOJ found that isolation is frequently employed outside the requirements of treatment or security, sometimes for extended periods and often as a punitive measure rather than a last resort. This practice poses a severe risk, especially when coupled with inadequate monitoring of isolated youths, leading to potential suicide risks.

Furthermore, the investigation will look into whether the state unnecessarily segregates individuals with serious mental illnesses into psychiatric hospitals instead of providing integrated community-based mental health services. This aspect of the probe is aligned with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates that people with disabilities receive appropriate community-based services.

This investigation follows other recent DOJ actions targeting systemic issues in state-run facilities. In April 2021, a similar probe concluded that Alameda County, California, violated the ADA by failing to provide adequate community mental health services, resulting in unnecessary institutionalization.

The DOJ’s investigation into Kentucky’s juvenile centers underscores a broader national effort to ensure that the rights of so-called “troubled teens,” juveniles, and individuals with mental illnesses are protected and that they receive appropriate and humane treatment in state-run facilities.

Alabama State Officials Face Lawsuits for Sate-Run Childcare Facilities

Kentucky’s problems call to mind a series of lawsuits alleging systemic discrimination against children with disabilities in childcare facilities across Alabama. The lawsuits were expanded in December 2023 to include several key state agencies. The new defendants are the Alabama Department of Human Resources, the Alabama Department of Education, the Alabama State Board of Education, and various county DHR offices and directors. This expansion aims to hold these agencies accountable for the alleged discrimination.

The plaintiffs, represented by Levin Papantonio Rafferty Attorney Caleb Cunningham, as well as Birmingham Attorneys Tommy James and Jeremy Knowles, claim that children in state custody were neglected and denied proper education and care. Cunningham emphasized that these children, instead of receiving education and support, were warehoused and their development stunted, which violates their legal rights.

The lawsuits are partly based on an October 2022 DOJ report, which concluded that the Alabama Foster Care System discriminates against students with disabilities, violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The DOJ’s findings were supported by a 2020 report from the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP), which described dire conditions in childcare facilities, including children sleeping on concrete slabs in unsanitary environments and lacking educational resources and career training opportunities.