U.S. Department of Justice Launches Investigation into Kentucky’s Youth Detention Facilities

Federal Probe Targets Allegations of Mistreatment and Inadequate Care

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced an investigation into Kentucky’s juvenile justice system following complaints of excessive use of force, isolation, and inadequate mental health care in youth detention facilities. The federal probe comes on the heels of a state auditor’s report highlighting ongoing issues within the system.

5 Key Points

  • The investigation will focus on ensuring juveniles’ safety and humane treatment in Kentucky’s detention centers.
  • Federal investigators will examine the use of excessive force, prolonged isolation, violence, and sexual abuse in the facilities.
  • The probe will also assess the provision of adequate mental health services and special education for youth with disabilities.
  • Kentucky has struggled to manage increasing numbers of violent offenders in its juvenile justice system, leading to assaults, riots, and escapes.
  • The state has implemented reforms and increased funding to address the issues, but concerns persist.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke stated, “We are launching this investigation to ensure that children in Kentucky youth detention facilities are safe from harm, receive adequate mental health care, and get appropriate special education services.”

The federal probe comes after a Kentucky auditor’s report highlighted ongoing problems with the use of force and isolation techniques in the state’s juvenile detention centers. In January, a federal lawsuit alleged that two teenage girls held in a county facility were kept in isolation cells for weeks in unsanitary conditions, with one being held in a padded cell without a toilet.

Scope of the Investigation

The investigation will examine whether Kentucky protects juveniles from excessive force by staff, prolonged isolation, violence, and sexual abuse. It will also assess the provision of adequate mental health services and required special education for youth with disabilities. Clarke emphasized that confinement in the juvenile justice system should help children avoid future contact with law enforcement and become law-abiding, productive members of society.

Challenges Facing Kentucky’s Juvenile Justice System

Kentucky’s juvenile justice system has struggled to manage increasing numbers of youths accused of violent offenses, leading to a string of assaults, riots, and escapes, as well as incidents of abuse and neglect. In response, Governor Andy Beshear implemented policy changes, such as separating youths accused of significant crimes from alleged lower-level offenders and providing defensive equipment to detention center workers.

The state has also appropriated funds to boost salaries for juvenile justice employees, hire more correctional officers, improve security at detention centers, and increase diversion and treatment services for detained youths. However, concerns persist, and the federal investigation aims to address these issues.

State Response and Facilities Under Review

Governor Beshear stated that the state will cooperate with the federal investigation while advocating for the safety of its staff. The inquiry will review conditions at eight youth detention facilities and one youth development center run by the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice.

The federal investigation is a critical step in ensuring the well-being and rehabilitation of youth in Kentucky’s juvenile justice system. By addressing the alleged mistreatment and inadequate care, the probe aims to bring about necessary reforms and restore public trust in the system’s ability to provide a safe and supportive environment for detained juveniles.